June 2021 Training Challenge: Focus on One Thing

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

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!


What Should I do if my Pet Growls When I Try to Move Him?

You remember how I’ve talked about behavior issues coming in waves for us consultants? One of my current waves is pets who growl when their humans try to physically move them (especially from off the couch!) I felt like a blog post was warranted since I’ve been talking about it so frequently lately.

There are a couple scenarios that fall into this category:

  • Growling, lip curling, air snapping, and/or biting when being physically moved
  • Growling, lip curling, air snapping, and/or biting when reaching towards them so as to move them (especially if you’ve physically moved them in this way in the past).

My simple solution? Don’t physically move them. Done! Solved! Thanks for reading this week’s post.

Okay, perhaps I should give a little bit more info about that solution before moving on. The reason behind this can be best expressed by something my dad used to tell me when I was little. Every now and then, I would go up to my dad and say something along the lines of, “It hurts when I do this” and then would proceed to do the thing that hurt. Each time my dad would say, “Doctor doctor, it hurts when I do this! So don’t do that anymore.” (Y’know, in true dad humor fashion.) I’d usually roll my eyes and walk away, but now I understand the wisdom hiding behind the dad joke. Why do we continue to do things that we know will end badly? Why don’t we just stop doing them? 

If we know that our pet will growl if we try to physically move them, why do we keep trying to do it? From what I’ve seen working with clients, the answer to this question comes from one of the logical fallacies: false dichotomies. Let’s explore that a bit more before moving on to the alternatives to physically moving your pet.

False dichotomies 

False dichotomies (or false dilemmas) happen when we think there are only two solutions to a problem: A or B. We see the situation as black or white, with no grey space in between. I can either physically move my pet from the couch where they’re not allowed or I can let them remain on the couch and break the rule. When we look at the scenario from the lens of a false dichotomy, it’s easy to see why people continue to do something that they know is going to end badly. They’re usually thinking that it’s the lesser of two evils. 

What are the alternatives?

I would say that one of my main tasks as a behavior consultant is helping people come up with plans C, D, E, and so on. I help people realize that there are very few situations involving their pet that only have two solutions. There are a myriad of win-win solutions wherein we don’t have to go into conflict with our pet when we get creative. There are a lot of ways to relocate an animal without physically touching them, too. Solutions to this particular problem include:

  • Lure him off the couch (or from wherever you want him to move) using food or toys
  • Teach an “off” cue
  • Use a hand targeting or recall cue
  • Put up a gate or something similar so he can’t get to that space in the first place
  • Make a super comfy area right next to the couch and teach him that’s the better place to be

There are even variations within those 5 options and I’m sure there are plenty of other options in addition to the ones above. With all of the solutions that exist to get both you and your pet what you want we no longer need to physically move them, and when we no longer physically move them our pet has no reason to growl in that scenario. 

But shouldn’t I teach him not to growl when I try to physically move him?

My short answer is no. There are many reasons why I ardently believe that, including: warning signs are beneficial, dominance theory has been debunked, and I believe that all individuals, regardless of species, should be allowed to have control over what happens to their bodies. The discussions of all of those points are longer than I’d like to get into in this particular post, but best believe that they’re all future blog post topics! Plus, there are so many solutions that avoid the issue altogether that I’d rather spend time and energy on more pressing behavior issues if there are any. I’m a “work smarter, not harder” person at the end of the day. 

Now what?

  • Do you have a pet who growls when you physically try to move them? If yes, which of the above hands-off solutions do you want to incorporate? 
  • Are there other points of contention between you and your pet? Are there any other solutions you can come up with that would alleviate that conflict? Remember: a behavior consultant or trainer can help you with this if you can’t think of any on your own!
  • Are you having trouble remembering to follow through with your new solution? Set up the environment to make it easier for yourself. Placing treat jars in areas where you need them can go a long way to remembering what your new solution is.
  • Having trouble making a new solution work? Reach out to your behavior consultant or trainer. There can be a lot of nuances and tweaks that can make something more effective; a professional will be able to more efficiently help you figure out what those are.
  • If you’re ready to get started right now, check out our Beginning Behavior Modification: Learn the Skills You Need to Successfully Address Your Dog’s Behavior Problems on-demand course!

Happy training!


5 Tips for Your Pet’s Best Halloween

My favorite holiday, Halloween, is almost here! But while this holiday is often a favorite for humans it’s rarely a favorite for pets and that makes it stressful for their owners. The doorbell ringing all night often sends our pets into a loud tailspin. It’s a battle to get to the door when pets are crowding it. And let’s not forget the pets who get into the bowl of Halloween candy when no one is looking. Let’s make this year different by following these 5 simple tips:

  1. Put your pets away. There’s no reason your pet absolutely needs to greet trick-or-treaters or attend your Halloween party (unless contraindicated for separation anxiety). If you’re worried about your pet running out the open door or how they’ll act around people in costumes then let them hang out in another room for the evening. Many will thank you for leaving them out of the commotion! 
  2. Drown out the doorbell. Some people go as far as to disconnect their doorbell or simply turn off their porch light and leave a bowl of candy out, but if you’d like to participate in trick-or-treating then leave the TV or music on for your pet so they can’t hear the doorbell.
  3. Update your pet’s ID tags and microchip info. Better safe than sorry! 
  4. Put candy bowls out of your pet’s reach. Pets are opportunistic and just because something is toxic to them doesn’t mean they won’t ingest it (like humans and alcohol). This might mean setting the bowl not right near the front door to keep it out of reach. 
  5. Create an airlock around the door. Set up a freestanding gate around your front door to create an airlock that you can get in but your pet can’t. Here’s one that we like (Disclosure: This picture is an affiliate link. We receive a small commission for purchases made through these links at no extra cost to you. This helps us continue to put out free content to help you and your pets live more harmoniously!):

Happy Halloween!


Work Smarter, Not Harder: Treat Jars

This week’s “Work Smarter Not Harder” entry is devoted to the following phrase:

“So do I have to walk around my house with treats in my pocket all the time?”

The answer is no! There are easy ways to always have quick, easy access to treats when you’re training. My favorite is setting up treat jars where you need them most. 

There are 3 places in my house where I typically hang out or need access to quick reinforcers for training:

At night we’re usually curled up on the couch. Oso used to be incredibly reactive (ie: barky) at passersby when we first adopted him so when we moved to our new house with these gorgeous picture windows we were concerned about regressions in his behavior. He’s come a long way but every now and then he’ll see someone concerning. There’s a treat jar and clicker on the end table where we can easily grab it and work on some behavior modification. It’s come in handy for his fear of thunderstorms and fireworks, too. 

Treat jar right next to the couch makes training at the window easy!

Oso LOVES being outside. He’d be happy if we all just lived in the yard instead of the house. That made training recalls (come when called) to come inside harder. We keep a treat jar right by the back door and reinforce him for coming inside every time. His recalls are so much better now!

We’re never without treats to reinforce Oso coming when called!

If I’m home on a workday I’m in my office. You can get away with just the treat box and not look tacky when it’s your profession. 

You can get away with the treat box itself in the office of an animal behavior consultant.

Now what?

  • Where do you normally hang out and find yourself needing some quick reinforcers? Ask everyone in your household. 
  • Pick out treat jars that you like. I use little mason jars because they keep treats fresh, don’t look out of place with our decor, and frankly because I had them on hand. I’m also not worried about Oso stealing them whereas plastic bags would be pretty enticing. 
  • Put treats in your jars and place them around the house! Grab some treats whenever your pet needs a quick training moment. 
  • Enjoy the convenience and speed with which you can treat your pet! No more rushing to the pantry and missing the moment. 

Happy training!