Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Adding More Enrichment

As dog owners, we use reinforcement to reward our dogs for the behaviors we like. Enrichment is often confused as being an extra great or jackpot style reward for dogs, but it's way more than feeding something special to your dog!

By definition, Enrichment should provide of a way to meet our dog's natural instinct needs in a way that adds value to their day to day life. Behavior Consultants from around the world have pretty much agreed that enrichment activities should into these criteria.

Enrichment should...

--be an activity that has interaction between the participants.  (Dog & Human for us)
--effect the response a dog has to a particular action.  
--lead to evidence based, behavior changes.  
--be changing constantly.
--differ from animal to animal based on their needs.
--reliant on the evolution of learning experiences of the dog and human together.

Let's break each one of those down individually.

Enrichment is an activity that brings 2 or more participants together.

This is often the most forgotten part of enrichment! We think tossing our dog a bone or toy puzzle on our way out the door is enriching, but instead that's more of a pacifier to help our dogs be calm. If you do this, please keep doing it! But realize it's not having an enriching effect on your dog unless you condition this habit in a way that includes you. I often scatter kibble in a snuffle box before I leave the dogs in my office at work. This is meant to distract my dogs while I get out the door, but it doesn't really add much value to their lives. It's more of a pacifier.

Occasionally I'll toss some kibble in a snuffle box and sit with my dog encouraging them to enjoy it. Not that they need much encouragement, but by being their with them and letting them feel my joy for watching them enjoy the treasures they are hunting can make this a group activity.

I very much see a difference in Azul when we are out on a sniff-a-bout between when I'm enjoying nature with him or getting distracted by my phone. He enjoys it more when we can enjoy it together. 

Enrichment should effect the response a dog has.

You could argue that my scatterfeeding before I leave the dogs in my office meets this criteria for Belle as it reduces barking, but it doesn't change anything for Azul. Does that mean it isn't enriching for Azul? At one time Azul struggled with being in the office away from me. Prior to opening the Training Center, Azul was almost always at my side or home with Dad if I was working with another dog team. But at the Training Center he had to learn to be behind a gate or shut in the office for safety. I used this feeding technique to help him get used to me being on the other side of a barrier. So this method already changed his behavior and now to works to keep him in an happy emotional state so I would argue that this is still enrichment.

Enrichment should always be changing.

Dogs seem to get bored if they do the same puzzle over and over every day. Once they've solved it, the fun goes away and it becomes a chore to get the food out. But if we can change what we do to slowly increase the difficulty level or add new things to the puzzle, our dogs continue to enjoy the activity. That's why I'm a huge fun of low budget do it yourself puzzles that you make at home. I have a "kitchen puzzle box" that cost me less than $3 to make at the store and the first time Roz ate dinner that way it took her 12+ minutes to eat instead of the 5 seconds it would in a bowl. 

You can see that video here: https://youtu.be/4iSNGuZqHOg

Find It Games are another great way to start simple and continue to make it harder! 

The store bought puzzles can be fun if you don't use them every day and pull them out once in awhile on that rainy day or something when you need just a bit of extra enrichment. We also offer a puzzle exchange box at the Training Center where you can bring in a puzzle your dogs are bored with and exchange it for one that is here.

Enrichment is going to differ from dog to dog!
While Azul and Belle both love chewing on sticks and digging in their dig spots, they also have very different needs. Azul loves to explore any area that has wildlife scents making a slow sniff-a-bout one of his favorite enrichment activities. Belle on the other hand likes to go fast on walks sniffing as she runs. Some of this is due to age, but it shows their current needs. Azul has explored most of the environments around our area and recognizes where there and what is there, so he would rather keep his nose to the ground sniffing everything. Belle is mostly walking in new environments and doesn't have any of the memorized except perhaps the road by our house and the field we train in near the Training Center. Belle spends her walk looking and listening to everything in the environment. Her brain is trying to process so much that sniffing the ground isn't even on her radar unless she sees Azul sniffing a specific spot for a longer time. She loves to push her nose under his nose, but I'm not sure she is really thinking much about what she is smelling yet. At 8 months old, Belle is really in tune to all sounds and sounds hold more value, therefore the faster she goes and the farther she goes, the more she gets to hear! 

Watch your dog and find out what they love to do the most and do what you can to add more of that in their day to day life! Sometimes this might be breed specific and go towards behaviors your dog's breed was designed for such as swimming, hunting, guarding livestock, etc. Sometimes dogs don't really care for those breed specific activities and they like something else. Let them tell you what they enjoy.

Enrichment should include elements of previous learning experiences and engagement with their human.
This is the enrichment rule that doesn't always get followed as owners tend to get stuck in a pattern of always doing the same thing.  It's easy to drop a stuffed kong or a ball in our dog's safe space and walk away to do something else while they enjoy the food toy. This idea is often promoted by sellers of such toys. And if that's all you can do to add some enrichment to your dog's day, then please KEEP doing it! But there are also simple ways that don't take up much more time! 

If I'm preparing a food toy that I'm going to give my dogs, I'll try to build in some engagement while I prepare it.  I could ask my dogs to stay on a mat and keep them out of my way while I prepare it. Instead I like to engage my dogs in the act of preparing the treat. Since they are trained to retrieve, we can go together the box that food toys are stored in and I can ask each of my dogs to pick an empty toy and hand it to me.  Building some choice into the activity helps to build that engagement while also relying on their previous experience. Some dogs will just grab the toy on top because it's easy, while other dogs will dig to find a specific one. This is based on previous learning history and what they have enjoyed most in the past. If I have multiple dogs and I want them all to have the same type of toy, I might not give them a choice of toys and offer a choice of treats to add instead. Adding choice to fun activities helps dogs by increasing their feeling of agency. 

By building in choices and other forms of interaction as we prepare enrichment activities or during activities, we make the activity far more enriching for our dogs. My husband sets up a puzzle challenge every night for Belle and each night it gets harder and hard. Sometimes it involves something that is slightly impossible such as the treat might be inside a locked container that Belle can't open. However Belle knows that when she finds any part of the challenge too hard she can ask for help by taking the object to a human in the room or going to get a human and leading them to the challenge. This might frustrate some dogs, but Belle loves to interact with humans so it's a great thing for her. Azul on the other hand, prefers to eat his treats and treasures in private and he prefers to bury them and same the for later, even if later is a minute later. His evening enrichment happens in the bedroom where he has to search his bed, Belle's bed and our bed to see where the goodies are tonight. He typically determines this in the first 2 seconds in the room! Then his treat might be hidden under a blanket or wrapped in a towel, or scattered in multiple places in the room. He always rushes in the room and comes trotting out all proud when he is done.

How do you add all this enrichment into you day?
This is easier that it sounds. Watch your dog and see what they love! 

If it's sniffing, find lots of good places or items to sniff. In the fall when there are leaves all over the ground, I'll pick up a small back full and when I'm making new snuffle boxes, occasionally I through some leaves in. This brings some outside smells inside on the days that I use a nature snuffle box.

If your dog loves digging, you can prepare a specific dig spot area in your yard. I have a natural spot for my dogs since we live in the country, but I know several others who have created a dig spot using a kiddy pool, sand or dirt, and buried some fun things inside. My dogs love when I drop something in their holes and lightly cover it up with dirt.  Sometimes it's food, toys, a stick, pine cones...pretty much anything in the yard works for my pups.

You get the idea! Give your dog what they love in a way that impacts their behavior, either reducing behaviors you want to go away or increasing the behaviors your love. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Hard Realistic Expectations

 Last year I wrote on blog on how to set you and your dog up for success creating a plan that had realistic expectations.  Jump over here to read it, before reading this post! This post will continue on from there.

Having Realistic Expectations is HARD

If you read the post linked above, you'll know just how important it is to set realistic expectations based on what your starting point is now. You'll also know that there is no exact timeline that works for every dog so it's impossible to say that a 6 month old dog should be able to do XYZ behaviors in all environments with unlimited distractions. 

If you've followed any of my posts either in this blog or on social media, you know I always talk about Crazy Canine Adolescents and how unpredictable this age is for the dog and their owners. That 6 month old dog, is just entering adolescence and about to start developing rapidly physically, emotionally, and socially. Plus that adolescent dog is going to go through several periods where impulse control and self regulation seem to fly out the window.

This is where it becomes really challenging to have realistic expectations! 

Belle is currently 7 months old when I write this. In many ways she is excelling in my plans for training, often seeming to be way ahead of the game and smashing goal, after goal, after goal. In most ways she is doing so well that when she begins to struggle it throws me for a loop!

Last week was a particularly barky week. I'm not sure if there was something going on brain development wise, or my work schedule didn't fit her needs schedule, or I was simply expecting too much of her in certain situations. Needless to say she barked often and for long periods at some points and I was increasingly frustrated. Barking is one of those behaviors that triggers me emotionally. I'm fine with the bark when it happens due to a distraction entering the environment. 

Belle likes to bark as soon as she sees a person outside, then I she rushes to my side and watch calmly together. That's a 1-2 bark and done situation and I can handle that. But if that distraction is a friend of hers, or a dog she wants to make into a friend that barking doesn't stop. This is more of a high arousal barking that is begging for play time. This barking drives me insane!

Belle sometimes helps with clients in the training room and sometimes she hangs out in the office. And if she's in the office she was getting really good at barking a moment when a client first came in the door, then quieting down and relaxing in the office. But last week she couldn't do that! Every time a client came in she barked non-stop. It didn't matter if I let her out to see the client or kept her in the office, Belle just kept barking. I couldn't talk or even hear myself think. One time another client that lives nearby and has a dog that Belle loves stopped by while I was with a client and I begged him to take Belle to his house for a bit just to stop the barking. Thankfully he did!

So at some point I need to determine is the barking due to me having unrealistic expectations or is there something we need to add to our training plan to modify the behavior or do I need to do a better job of making sure Belle's needs are met before a client appointment.

This is where realistic expectations become hard!

Depending on the trainer you talk to and their ethical philosophy, some trainers will say that most dogs grow out of "IT" (name the crazy adolescent behavior) while many others will state that dogs will not grow out of IT! That is the kind of black and white thinking that I try really hard to avoid. No one can say for sure if a challenging behavior is going to be a lifelong issue or something that is temporary due to the ever changing adolescent brain.

I know that barking is Belle's default behavior. She does this behavior whenever she doesn't know what else to do. It doesn't matter if she's nervous, excited, frustrated, in high arousal, etc.  Whenever she escalates emotionally, barking happens. I'm pretty sure that's not something she is going to grow out of. 

That is where it's important to set up of for success with training plans that help Belle learn about her ever changing world through environmental processing and help her learn to control her arousal with self regulation. And that is exactly where it is important for me as Belle's human to set up training to support her, management to prevent rehearsal of the behavior I want to go away, avoid putting her in situations she can't yet handle, and making sure her needs are met before we do any type of separation activity as that is where the barking is happening most frequently.

Taking a look at what has changed recently that could be causing the more frequent behavior.

Sometimes we forget that there might be underlining causes related to the challenging behavior we are struggling with. Often there is more to the behavior that just what is happening in that moment. A few weeks ago Belle could easily stay in the office while I ran an errand or worked with a client with some but not alot of barking. And now she can't!  So what has happened during that time?

Well, to start, Azul hasn't been feeling well so I've been working a bit harder to meet his needs by taking solo walks, ATV rides, and other fun outings. Belle has stayed in the office a more than normal, stayed home with Dad (a whole different challenge) a bit more than normal. And we've been working to get Belle comfortable staying with my friend and his dogs so that she can stay with them during an upcoming medical appt for Azul. Before this she would stay in the office fine, but adding in staying home with Daddy and staying at my friend's house with and without me has increased the amount of time she is away from me.

Also during this time, Belle has been learning to pay attention to the medical needs that I often ignore. She is doing both morning and evening medicine reminders now and has even done 3 migraine alerts despite the fact that I haven't started training that scent yet. This increased attention to my medical needs is likely impacting her desire to be with me more and dislike separation more. This is something that many Service Dogs and Service Dogs in Training Struggle with as they often spend so much time with their person and so little time away from their person. This is something that I help other people train around, but it's not something in Belle's current training plan because I didn't expect it to be a probably. We worked on as a puppy, but I didn't expect it to come back. That's a huge oversight on my part!

Figuring out what is causing the change in behavior or the increase in the frequency of the behavior is the first step in coming up with successful solutions to the problem. Often the process of figuring out the cause helps us to become more understanding of the emotional struggles of our dog. And that often leads to our understanding of what is a realistic expectation for our dog in this point in life.

Penelope V. Yorke — 'Knowledge is the key to understanding, understanding is the key to achieving, and achieving is the key to becoming.'

This quote also applies to challenging behaviors that we are struggling with. When we know the cause of the behavior, we understand the dog's needs that are being missed, and when we focus on taking care of that need we can see the behavior changing more rapidly.

BUT! When is the behavior setting in and becoming a challenge that is going to be an ongoing struggle?

At some point if the behavior is ignored too long, the management is not being used, the dog is able to rehearse the behavior often, and the training that leads to change is not being done...the behavior becomes a habit or a way of getting something accomplished.

Dogs don't do any behavior simply because they know we like it or hate it. Dogs do what works! Every behavior has a purpose behind the behavior. In animal science terms behaviors are described in an ABC pattern. Antecedent is the thing that happens before the behavior. Behavior is what the animal does. And Consequence is what happens after the animal does the behavior. 

Many force free trainers are unhappy with the wording of "consequence" because to many people that implies something negative. But in this situation, it could be negative or positive.

For example, a scared dog barks at the human or dog approaching them. That human or dog then backs off, not wanting to experience conflict with the dog. The scared dog then learns that barking and acting like a jerk keeps threats away so they repeat it whenever that scared emotion hits them. Barking in this situation becomes a learned survival mechanism.

Belle's barking is communication begging me to come be closer to her. Often she barks and I go to her...she learns that persistent barking gets my attention.

Is that what I want her to learn? NO But at the same time, I don't want her to be practicing the behavior of barking and I don't want her to live in that heighten state of emotional chaos for long either. So what is the solution?

Look at my management and how I can set up Belle for success to prevent her from feeling the need to be near me non-stop. Responding to Belle sooner vs later at least prevents the rehearsal of repetitive barking, which also lowers her emotional state much faster as well. I'm not going to let her just cry it out and learn that I won't respond to her needs. So I'm going to keep going to her or reassuring her through the door if and when the barking is occurring. But I'm also going to do my best to prevent that barking in the first place with better management.

Step 1: Make sure Belle's physical, emotional, and social needs are met before she needs to stay alone in the office or with another person.

Step 2: Make sure I have enrichment she loves set up in the area she will need to stay without me. And make sure I have a calming sound playing during this time as that seems to help her as well. She loves listening to Andy Hale videos on YouTube while I'm with a client! I think it sounds much like a Zoom meeting that I often do and she lays calmly at my side. And Andy Hale has the calmest of voices while talking!

Step 3: Schedule more playdates with friends right before I have clients or visits to friends houses during my client sessions so that Belle spends less time in the office during this challenging time in her life.

And most importantly! I need to remind myself to have realistic expectations for a 7 month old Crazy Canine Adolescent who is doing their very best to be successful in the world that I place them in.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Patreon Membership


Why Should You Join The Yooper Paws Patreon Memberships?

I created Patreon to help dog owners who live outside of driving range to the Yooper Paws Training Center. I tried several other platforms and ways to arrange content in a way that makes it easy for dog owners to find the information they need and Patreon does that. Now I have so much great content on Patreon that many of my local clients also join for additional support.

At Yooper Paws of Love, our mission is to help dog owners and dogs to develop teamwork skills in a way that will help their day to day life. We believe that for the most part, all dog owners LOVE their dog and want to do what is best for them. Yet the amount of training info out there that actually hurts more then helps is enormous. Therefore we want to teach people how they can be successful with training their dog to live a safe, calm, and happy life in their family.

Our mission is to help owners and dogs be successful! 
Success looks different for every family and every household therefore we strive to make sure that we have resources available that everyone can afford. And Patreon Membership is definitely our cheapest option! To achieve this mission, we have some FREE content that is available to everyone who signs up as a FREE Member. This includes

Yooper Paws Updates: A monthly update of things that are happening locally and virtually.
FAD Workshops from years 1, 2, and 3 that help you learn how to teach dogs to focus more on YOU than the distractions in the environment.  In this series, you basically watch Azul grow up as year one he was a young adolescent and year 2 just at the end of adolescents and year 3 he settled into his adult self. This collection offers nearly 15 hours of video content to help dog owners.

The Canine Car Club is a podcast series that helps you teach your dog how to feel safe, calm, and happy in the car reducing fear and over excitement with practice exercises that you can do while you listen to the podcasts in your car.

Creating a Calm Christmas is a 12 post series designed to help you prepare your pets for big holiday events and larger family gatherings. While we reference Christmas often as this collection was released in December, the skills apply to all holidays, large family events such as picnics and reunions, camping trips, and vacations. Basically any time your schedule is going to be different and BIG things will be happening, you can set your dog up for success with the info in this free collection.

Paid Memberships

If you are looking for more detailed info to help with a behavioral problem you are having or teach a specific skill, the paid memberships mix written content with live zoom sessions and text based support from quality Canine Coaches. The Crazy2Calm Canine Coaches help me watch the chat groups and provide support for those in the paid memberships which means you not only get my advice but you also have access to other trainers around the US & Brazil. Here are the paid memberships.

Play With a Purpose is an all new membership designed to help dog owners learn to play in a ways that teach dogs how to think through excitement and build skills that help in every day life. It's divided into 4 different sections; Training with Tug, Balls with a Brain, Playing with Enrichment, and Playing with Your Food. Since this is a new membership will start in June 2024 with posts focused on Tug which can be used to teach dogs to have a gentle mouth, keep mouths off humans, trade for something better, and much more. July will focus on ball play. August will focus on enrichment, & September will focus on Food Games. After that all four sections will be available for members to review at their convenience. This membership is extremely beneficial for people with new puppies or first time dog owners but also a good choice for people that want to learn about having more fun with their dog. The membership costs $6 per month and you can stay as long as you want and leave whenever you want.

There is also a Play With a Purpose E-Book that you can purchase on Patreon for a one time price of $18 if you do not want to join in the monthly membership option.

Helping Fearful Dogs Feel Safe is my entry level membership for those with dogs that display fearful or fizzy (over-excited) behaviors such as barking, lunging, kangaroo jumping, or other big behaviors when something new enters the environment such as people, dogs, and wildlife. In this membership there is a 2 hr instruction video to get you started with helping your dog regulate their emotions. In addition to addressing fears, this membership also includes skills such as leash manners, exit strategies, and games based training to build confidence. This membership is also $6 per month. If you search for other classes based on helping reactive dogs, you'll likely find prices from $500-3,000! Yes, those can be excellent classes but we realize that many people simply can't afford that and helping these dogs learn to feel safe is our passion.  This program comes from the heart and we will do our best to continue to add content that will help all dog owners with fearful and fizzy dogs.

Turning Struggles Into Strengths Membership combines 2 Collections in a massive support program for people who are struggling with a wide variety of common challenges. To start with the Challenging Behaviors Collection is a video workshop based learning with over 12 hrs of videos that work through a wide variety of foundation topics that be applied to most behavior challenges. Then this year we are getting more detailed by creating workshops and additional resources that focus on a specific behavior.  We started with leash manners and will be working through struggles with resource guarding, separation anxiety, jumping on guests, barking caused be fear and barking caused by excitement, and so forth. This membership tier is part of our step up program so it also includes the Helping Fearful Dogs Feel Safe Collection. You can get all of this great content for just $10 per month. Again you can start whenever you want and leave when you're ready. So if you did just 3 months of the membership you could do most of the content already there for a cost of $30 and opt out. But this is also the membership that continues to expand so most people enjoy this membership much longer.

The Trainer in Your Pocket Membership is our top level tier! For just $16 a month you have access to all the resources in every collection offered! Play With a Purpose, Helping Fearful Dogs Feel Safe, The Challenging Behaviors Workshops, & the Turning Struggles into Strengths Collection. Plus you get excellent support from Canine Coaches! There is a group chat available to ask questions, a monthly live Q&A session where you can ask questions and submit videos to be review. And you can send direct messages to Canine Coaches that will be responded to that day. This could cost thousands of dollars with other trainers, but we are trying to make this affordable for everyone! For many dog owners, $16 a month is manageable compared to up front costs starting in the $1,000 range.

All of our Patreon Support is designed to help you and your dog grow as a team by playing games together that can be applied to every day life experiences. We realize that most dog owners are used to more traditional training where dogs are given orders that they must comply with. Our resources are designed to help dog owners transition from that old school methodology to one based on love and compassion, using training to teach our dogs how to be successful in life by making good choices, seeking support from their human, and learning to be safe in the environment. If you want to enhance your relationship with your dog, then you're in the right place!

We encourage you to join as a free member and check out the content there first, then look at what you really need help with the most and how much time you can commit right now to help your dog. Then if you still are unsure of which membership is right for you, reach out to us for a FREE 15 min phone call where we can point you down the path that will help you the most based on your needs.

Online Dog Training Works!
Affordable Dog Training Should Be Available To Everyone!

Friday, March 22, 2024