Friday, November 16, 2012

On Hiatus

I hate to do this, but I need to take a short break from blogging for awhile. I'm in the middle of another writing project, and it's taking up a lot of my time. I'm also teaching a lot; I'm starting six hours of back-to-back classes on Saturdays and have been doing some private dog training consults as well. And of course, I have my regular full-time job, too! Something has to give, and unfortunately, it's this blog.

I will be back. I have a lot to share with you all- the rest of my notes from the Shedd seminar, and then the Kathy Sdao seminar I went to last month, and then next month I'm seeing Denise Fenzi again! I also want to write more about how moving went with Maisy (which was, yes, quite a few months ago!). So. Lots of plans, just not enough time.

I hope to be back around the beginning of the new year. Until then, here's a Maisy picture to hold you over!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

(Mostly) Wordless Wednesday: Taking a Breather

Here's another shot of Maisy at A Dog Spot. Good dog play always features some short breaks, and here you can see that Maisy, the little brown dog to the left side of the photo, and Trout the North American Yodelhound doing just that. I can't tell you how wonderful it is to know that Maisy will be happy and confident whenever she's staying at A Dog Spot.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Half-Time Break!

If you live in Minnesota, Maisy urges you to Vote No!

So we're about half-way through the Shedd seminar series- whew! I feel like I've been writing about it forever. (And once I'm done with them, I have to write about the Kathy Sdao seminar I went to!) Anyway, since the Shedd entries seem to have taken over the blog, I figured it would be nice to take a little half-time break to update you on all things Maisy.

As you may remember, Maisy and I moved about three months ago. She has settled in beautifully, and is back to her baseline level of functioning- maybe even better! She has simply blossomed, and I'm often amazed at how well she's doing. If I didn't know better, I'd think she was a "normal" dog!

Maisy and I have been filling our days with lots of walks around the neighborhood and exploring the hiking areas down by the river. We have both been enjoying this a great deal, and it's really allowed me to see just how well she's doing. On several occasions, we've been rushed by friendly-but-rude off-leash dogs. Where this used to be the stuff of nightmares, lately Maisy has taken to play bowing at them! I just about fell over the first time.

Maisy has also been more social, interested in meeting people we encounter. Surprisingly, she's even been interested in greeting children. She hasn't always liked kids, and has even snapped at a few in the past, so I've been very, very cautious. Still, Maisy has been so clear in her desire to see them that I've allowed a few interactions with some of the more polite children. I've been blown away by Maisy's relaxed and friendly greetings.

Are you a friend?

She's also shown a lot of curiosity about unusual things in the environment. Unexpected items have always unnerved her in the past, but lately, she's been bravely investigating novel objects. Halloween offered many such opportunities, and while she's still not quite sure what to think of oversized inflatable spiders and life-sized scarecrows, she's willing to have an open mind!

So, all in all, Maisy is doing wonderful, and I'm just absolutely thrilled with her recent behavior. I hope you're all doing well, too!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Shedd Animal Training Seminar: Preventing Boredom

People sometimes criticize zoos for having habitats that are small and boring. They feel bad for the animals, worried that they don’t have enough to do. This is a valid concern; zoo animals do sometimes show stereotypic behaviors like pacing, which is why Ken spent time telling us about what the Shedd does to provide variety for the animals in their care.

Training is a wonderful way to provide interesting experiences for an animal. Not only does it give it something to do, it provides social interaction and mental stimulation. Ken believes that this is one of the most important reasons for training zoological animals (and domestic pets, too!).

In addition to training an animal regularly, the sessions can be set up to provide variety for the animal. That is to say, the training sessions should not all be the same. Obviously, you can work on different behaviors, but you can also change up where the session is held, the length of the session, the speed at which you train, who is working with the animal, and who else is around (either other animals or humans), but not participating in the training.

The reinforcement process can provide a lot of variety too; not only can you provide different types, numbers, and sizes of reinforcers, but you can also switch up the reinforcement schedule. Secondary reinforcers can also provide a lot of interest.

Finally, don’t forget about informal sessions- having regular “play” sessions in which a trainer interacts with an animal can be incredibly valuable. These are interactions that are not contingent on the animal’s behavior (beyond the rules needed for safety), and can be the animal’s choice in what to do.

Enrichment is about helping to make an animal’s habitat species-specific. That is, it should allow the animal to engage in more natural behaviors, and make their home interesting. Having multiple habitats can provide variety for the animal, and the Shedd does a nice job of providing their animals with a number of different locations in which to live.

This penguin has a number of objects to stimulate interest.

But even if there is only one habitat, there is a lot that can be done to prevent boredom. Environmental conditions can be changed: the amount of sunshine/lighting can vary, the temperatures can be changed, and different substrates can be provided. For water animals, water currents can be adjusted to provide interest.

The way the habitat is configured should allow the animal to engage in species-appropriate behaviors, whether that is climbing, jumping, running, or swimming. Habitats can also be rearranged, moving items around to provide new stimulation.

Social interactions should be considered. The Shedd will sometimes have all of their animals of a particular species living together, and sometimes they will separate them into smaller groups. They will also switch who is in each group on a regular basis.

Enrichment devices or toys can also provide a great deal of interest. Simply providing a variety of different, rotating toys for the animals to explore can do a lot to prevent boredom. Food-dispensing objects can be used at meal times. Items with different colors, sizes, textures, and smells are encouraged.

A Word of Caution
At this point, Ken cautioned that animals need to be okay with variety. If they have lived a very sterile, regimented life, too much variety can be actually be stressful. Ken encouraged us to introduce variety slowly in order to help the animal get used to it.

That said, variety and consistency are not contradictory concepts. Consistency is often hailed as important, especially for anxious or reactive animals. Ken pointed out that consistency is meant to give the animal security and confidence, while variety gives it a reason to be engaged in its environment. He compared it to a game. The rules remain the same, but there are different leagues, teams, and players.

What About Our Pets?
Preventing boredom is important for our pets, too. Pets that are bored often find ways to entertain themselves, and often in ways that we humans don’t particularly care for. Barking, chewing, and digging are great examples of problem behaviors in dogs. The solution, of course, is to provide them with some kind of enrichment.

Ken’s principles can be applied to our dogs. Whether you participate in dog sports or just teach them silly tricks, regular training can be a great way to help provide interesting activities for our dogs. We can also switch up how, when, and what we feed them. Rotating their toys is helpful, as is bringing home interesting objects and encouraging them to explore. Take them new places, even if it’s just a different route on the daily walk. Be creative!

What do you do to provide new experiences for your dogs?