Welcome to Day 10 of #100daysofenrichment and thank you for joining us on this journey!
Although our challenges are directed mainly at dogs, we want all species to enjoy and benefit from #100daysofenrichment so, please join in, adjust and adapt to help your pet or companion live a more enriched life.
Beds & Bedding
At a glance:
- providing dogs with a choice of resting places based on their preferences
- habitat and sensory based enrichment
- functional spaces are a basic requirement for dogs, contributing to their welfare
- get the family involved in this one – while a lot of this enrichment challenge is observation based, there are some simple training exercises that children might enjoy participating in
- sit back, do some observation; move some beds about or engage in some simple training exercises…most of which require you to just sit about!
What do you need?
- different beds and bedding
- a range of foods that can be used as food rewards
- a mat, blanket or towel
- to provide a choice in resting places and bedding types
- to encourage dogs to choose and introduce choice into their day to day life
- to provide dogs with functional spaces – this means that the dog has safe access to different areas that are defined by different activities
- to teach dogs to move to a specific location when asked and remain there, even in the face of distractions
- to help dogs calm themselves and settle themselves
- to teach the dog that their human will ask for behaviour and will make sure reinforcement is available – this reduces stress by improving predictability and controlability
- to build that bond between dog and human
- to learn about learning – this is just another puzzle to your dog…”how do I train the human to make rewards available?!“…it’s all human training, for dogs!
While training exercises certainly fall into the cognitive enrichment category, they can provide so much more.
Providing dogs with cues allows for a complex level of communication between two species; you are merely requesting that the dog perform behaviour (he already knows how to lie down on a bed) and that request comes with a contract. Respond appropriately to this signal and rewards are coming your way. That’s the deal…that’s what being a good teacher is about – keeping your word and making it easy for your dog to train you.
This forges the most healthy of relationships between our two species. This is a level of social enrichment that’s tricky to replicate.
When we talk about enrichment being enriching, this is never more clear than when we start to teach behaviours intentionally. It’s the human’s job to set the dog up for success by making sure the behaviour is doable and that rewards are fast-flowing.
There’s no test at the end of this and you and your pet are not under any pressure. Learn to enjoy the time together, whether you achieve the goal behaviour or not. That’s what’s enriching here…the social and cognitive outlets such exercises provide (for both species).
Choice & Choosing
Throughout their day, dogs must make choices about which behaviours to demonstrate. For the most part, dogs would choose behaviours that we would probably dislike so we ‘train’ in the hope that the dog will choose behaviours we prefer. This is why #100daysofenrichment is so important for dogs.
No matter what approach or attitude to teaching your dog you take, we are training the dog to choose our preference rather than theirs. We teach dogs to be less dog, so we can live with them. Getting to be more dog is the central tenet of #100daysofenrichment!
Reinforcing behaviours makes them happen more often so the dog is more likely to choose behaviours with a good reinforcement history. Punishing behaviours makes them happen less often so dogs learn to avoid choosing those behaviours.
Our dogs are learning to train their environment, including us humans. How easily trained are you?
Does your dog know how to get you to provide things he likes? Do you make it really easy for him to do that? He chooses behaviours that get you producing reinforcers.
Why we want to maximise reinforcement based approaches is so that our dog isn’t learning to avoid situations that produce punishers because them might include avoiding us.
I want dogs to enjoy choosing behaviours I like…it’s the least I can do, given they might actually prefer to do something else.
Life can’t offer free or even abundant choice; too much choice isn’t beneficial at all! But, where we can, I believe we owe it to dogs, who get so little choice about everything in their lives, to allow them to make some choices, learn that their behaviour makes a difference, and get to be more dog.
We have more Choice & Choosing challenges over the 100 days so this will be a theme we revisit.
Dogs and more so the choices they make is a central tenet of #100daysofenrichment – for enrichment to be enriching, the animal’s choices are prioritised and realised. Examples of how our challenges can be applied in choice provision, her: Forks in the road.
I have battled with and rambled on about choice in dog training before and continue to investigate the best ways to empower pets and other animals with whom we are in contact.
Susan Friedman has been talking about choice in animal teaching forever; choice is a primary reinforcer, she teaches, and that means that animals will naturally seek out situations where choice is available. If it’s evolved as a primary reinforcer (nature selects for this tendency) it’s pretty vitally important to animals, just as food, water, shelter and sex are.
What goals can you add to this list for your pets?
How can we achieve these goals?
- think about the sorts of decisions your dog has to make in living in the human world; what are they basing those decisions on (what’s reinforcing the chosen option, what’s punishing the rejected options?)
- observe the decisions your pet makes about resting locations – where? when? what heights? what substrate? how do they settle? do they ‘make a “nest”‘?
- based on those observations, how can we provide them with better choices for bed and rest times?
- practice the training exercise components of today’s challenges when your dog is already calm and work in conditions that he might choose to settle in
- use food rewards that don’t get the dog too excited
- use stuffables to facilitate settling and calming, especially stuffables that encourage lapping
What adjustments will you make for your pets?
Applications of choice in resting:
Being able to rest comfortably and safely is no luxury, it’s vital for health and well-being.
Dogs need a safe and comfortable environment to engage in deep sleep. This means that there must be a lot of ducks in a row.
For the most part, dogs prefer to deep sleep on their sides and stretched out. This is facilitated by being in a safe environment, on comfortable weight-supporting bedding, exposure to the right ambient temperature to allow for stretching out, they are often most comfortable off the floor; all the ingredients for a good sleep.
Today’s challenge goes beyond that. As important as having a safe and comfy resting place is, considering and providing choice for your dog has wide-reaching, positive implications.
Dogs who know their choices count, can use behaviour to ask for relief, then can ask for things they need.
They don’t need to badger and they don’t need to aggress. Choices allow dogs to navigate the human world with confidence because they can control what happens to them.
It might seem like we are starting small but these little moves toward offering more choice can have a big effect.
You will providing comfy, safe resting places, improved recovery from stress, plus a little bit more predictability and controlability. That’s what appropriate choice does – it busts stress and boosts confidence.
We often presume that our pets experience a good standard of welfare because they live a life similar to ours, in the human world. This is especially the case for pet dogs.
But, what would our dogs choose, if they had the choice?
Are they just resting in a place because we have reinforced that behaviour, because it largely suits us?
Are they choosing to settle in a particular spot because it’s close to us, rather than providing them with their preferences?
Are ‘dog beds’ designed to appeal to dogs or humans?
Although often applied to dogs, they are not den animals. We can look to free living dogs for ideas about what dogs might choose, if they are not completely burdened by human life and direction. Free-living dogs might have young puppies hidden in a den, but the adult dogs don’t really spend much time there.
While looking at species typical tendencies gives us some clues, we must also look at the individual’s preferences for answers. And to do that, we must ask the dog.
I have no doubt, if you are joining in on our project, you are doing a wonderful job at providing the best dog-life for your dog.
We can’t possibly offer our dogs all the choices, or indeed many options they would prefer, despite our best intentions. But we can certainly offer them better choices – two crappy options are no better than no choice at all.
So, today, our mission is to find our dogs better choices by asking them. Giving them the option to choose, and making sure their choices are meaningful. Their behaviour matters. Today, we ask the dog.
Option 1: Beds & bedding
We are going to arrange and rearrange our dog’s environment, their beds/resting places/bedding, to see what options they choose and which ones they prefer.
You might already have formed conclusions about your dog’s resting preferences. Test those interpretations by offering other choices to really ask them what they prefer.
Where does your dog choose to rest?
Is he only resting there because he’s beside you? What happens if you move?
Is he only resting there because that’s where you have put his bed? What happens if the bed is moved?
Is he only resting there because he can keep an eye on the goings on or because he can avoid the chaos?
- Add other beds, rather than moving the existing beds, to provide other options.
Decker, as always, choosing to rest in the most convenient of places!
When does your dog rest?
When you are busy or occupied?
When you’re not available?
After or before particular activities or occurrences?
- Keep a log. What just happened? Where does your dog rest in response?
Can we provide preferred beds in preferred places at particular times?
Just because it doesn’t look comfortable to us, doesn’t mean it’s not the dog’s choice!
- how does your dog rest?
Check out the positions in which your dog rests – sphinx, on his side, frog legs, curled up, on his back…?
- Does your dog prepare to settle? He might turn and then lie down, he might dig at his bed before lying down, maybe he just plonks down and falls asleep!
When and where does he do what he does?
- Does your dog make a nest? He might turn and dig at his bed, he might rearrange bedding or attempt to.
Decker is a nest builder. He will manipulate his bedding to form a pillow and a little hollow, in which he can curl up.
To allow him this option, I make sure he has a variety of beds and bedding to choose from. If he wishes to make a nest, he needs loose bedding. In this clip, he has a rug on the floor for insulation and he will also roll in it, he has a cushion type dog bed and a loose blanket. He will manipulate the blanket to form a pillow and will move about the dog bed and then curl up on it, leaving against part of it, under it or behind it.
This invariably happens when he is settling for a proper sleep, rather than just resting. Decker is a big fan of sleeping! And comfort!
- ambient conditions
Try providing bedding options in different ambient conditions. Maybe one part of the room or space is warmer or cooler at different times of the day.
Can the dog access a suitable resting place when hot and when cold?
Decker is a heat seeker!
And when hot, sleeps belly-up!
- environmental conditions
Provide bedding to see how much the dog wishes to rest amidst the action and so they can choose to remove themselves for a break.
Dogs often like to keep an eye on their humans, on entrance and exit points, on cooking and eating and they might like to avoid the hoover or other situations they don’t like.
Decker will rest where ever I am!
But maybe, sometimes, they might prefer their own space and time…
- social sleeping
Dogs often prefer to sleep close to their nearest and dearest. This is safer and is important for group bonding. Dogs don’t necessarily need touching or petting, just getting to sleep or rest up next to a bonded individual seems to be their thing. Maybe they just like to be in the same room so that they can rest with company or maybe they want full on body contact.
- have you tried different types of beds and bedding?
Maybe your dog would prefer a bed with a lip on it or one without. Maybe they would prefer a flat mat or something more cushioned. Maybe they like to have different bedding types in different places.
Like Decker, maybe they like a combination of bedding. Perhaps providing that will encourage them to make their own bed or choose the one they prefer.
- have you explored height?
It is very common for dogs to like resting on a raised surface. Piling up the dog beds might be chosen. Putting their bed onto a chair, a tub or on another upturned dog bed, on a crate or up on a step. Perhaps this provides a better vantage point, perhaps it’s associated with them preferring to be up off the ground.
There are also a number of commercially available raised beds that many dogs love.
- human furniture
Whether you like or want your dog on your furniture is up to you. There is no great social significance to your dog being up on your bed or sofa – this will not lead to them attempting a take-over.
But valued resting places may be guarded, and dogs might prefer not to be approached, touched, manipulated when in these spots, often because there has been a history of moving the dog from these locations. Losing out on access to resources may lead lots of dogs to resource guard. Humans approaching means they are about to lose out, so they might signal that they want humans to go away with freezing, whale-eye, growling, snarling, snapping and even biting. If this is happening, get help.
Teach your dog to get off furniture on cue. Lure them or encourage them off, rather then grabbing them or attempting to intimidate them. Don’t give them a reason to guard.
Dogs probably choose human furniture because it’s comfortable (that’s what it’s supposed to be!) and because you’re there and you spend time there. It might be the height, it might be that it allows them to sleep next to you (something dogs often love, just being), maybe it’s the best option for them.
If up on the furniture is not for you, or your dog, sit with them on the floor. Layout a bed or bedding and sit on it. See does your dog choose to rest with you. Maybe it’s not about being on the sofa, maybe it’s about being with you.
Today, make observations and test your interpretations. Today, we ask the dog.
Option 2: Park your Pup
This simple exercise has some really helpful applications and is great for bringing your dog places and helping your dog learn to settle and occupy themselves when the humans are busy or trying to relax too.
For practicing this exercise, you need:
- a mat or bed for your dog
- their lead and collar
- a stuffable and some food rewards – make sure the stuffable is filled with something that encourages lapping to aid settling
- a chair for yourself
Parking involves securing our dog, via their lead, under one foot and a stuffable for them to work on, under the foot. This keeps the dog and the stuffable in one place and their lapping behaviour rewards their settling.
This is a great exercise for puppies or young dogs to help them to learn how to chill when the family are relaxing in the evening time. And it’s the perfect exercise to practice to help prepare your dog for resting quietly beside you at a cafe or some event.
Start with this bit so that you and your get used to the procedure. Reward with some food rewards and then give your dog a stuffable so they can relax, while you sit back and relax. Lazy dog training for the win!
Practice Parking exercises lots and lots, even for just a few minutes at a time, during the day in different rooms and when you are engaged in different activities.
Practice Parking during your walks; about halfway through your walk with your dog, stop and take a break for a stuffable. Park your dog, relax and just be.
When you bring your dog to a place that is helped by Parking, sit with your dog positioned inside of you so they are not being approached all the time, so they have their own space and so that they can just chill, without social pressure. They just want to relax and enjoy their stuffable. Make it possible.
We teach Parking in all our classes, as well as using it as a way of safely managing puppy and dog behaviour in the distracting class environment, and we use it at seminars or workshops, and when our dogs must attend events.
Parking is also a wonderful tool to help your dog calm after excitement; after walks, after training and play, after excitement and arousal.
By helping establish stuffables as a calming aid, and adding Parking, you relaxing and sitting down becomes a cue for your dog to chill. Lots of practice to get there so start Parking your Pup today!
Parking, on the road
We teach settling in public places as part of our puppy curriculum and many other programs too.
Parking is combined with matwork, out and about, to help the dog control arousal, especially in exciting or distracting environments, and to allow everyone to relax and spend time with it being about activity all the time.
This is a great exercise to practice halfway through every outing, weather permitting. This helps to calm your dog and allow them to recover from the physical and mental exertion experienced when out and about.
Option 3: Matwork
Matwork is one of my favourite life skills to work on with pet dogs. It’s one of the first things I work on with new dogs and it’s something that I will continue to work on throughout that dog’s time with me.
Baby Decker’s second day home and his first matwork session!
Matwork teaches your dog to stick to their mat. We build value in being on the mat by making it the most rewarding place to be. Think of all the mischief your dog can’t get up to if lying quietly on their mat…!
Matwork helps at a number of different levels:
- your dog has a place to go that’s safe and theirs
- their mat is a pleasant place to be as that’s where rewards happen
- allows you to manage dog behaviour; if your dog is exhibiting behaviour you don’t like, instead of thinking how to stop that unwanted behaviour, instead ask: “what would I prefer my dog to do?” Lying quietly on their mat ticks a lot of boxes and solves a lot of problems!
- teaches your dog to make more polite choices
- helps with polite greetings behaviour, when the doorbell sounds, when the doors are open, when there’s activity, when you’re eating or working and becomes a mobile signal to settle and relax
This clip shows a real-time session with me introducing down and matwork to a rescue dog, Gracie, just before she goes to her new home.
Practice matwork in short sessions of a few minutes at a time. If your dog is fidgety or finding it difficult to settle, work for shorter periods and practice more Parking to help them build some duration first.
You can add in fidget breaks to help them let off some steam, intermittently, so that they find it easier to settle.
It’s often better to use less exciting food rewards for matwork so that your dog isn’t too wound up by the anticipation of yummy food.
Beginners: teaching down
Start by teaching your dog to lie down on their mat.
Use the same mat for this work and tidy it away when you’re not training. Initially, we want the mat to be associated with rewards so if it’s just lying there at other times, it starts to use some value.
If you want to progress to teaching your dog to lying down on a verbal cue, this clip will bring your through the stages.
To help your dog relax, teach them to lie down in a more relaxed position. What happens on the outside of the body can help affect what’s happening on the inside; more relaxed behaviour can help the dog feel more relaxed.
Beginners: the mat is the place to be
Once your dog can lie down on the mat, we can begin to establish lying on the mat as the place to be. Note that we don’t need to ask the dog to lie down on their mat; we want the mat to be the signal to lie down there.
Practice some shaping exercises. Shaping is an approach to teaching that breaks the big, goal behaviour down into small achievable steps. We’ve given your dog a headstart as we have already taught them to lie on the mat. Now we are going to let them work it out a little.
Intermediate: mat down, lie down
Now that the dog can find their mat and lie on it, we can begin to further establish that idea by practicing this exercise. Take the mat up between each trial when you toss the treat away for the dog to get. When they return, lay out the may again so they can practice lying on it immediately.
If they can’t quite do that, just go back to practicing easier exercises. Your dog is giving you information that they need more practice and more support.
Intermediate: building duration
Your dog can lie on their mat and they know that lying on their mat is the place to be…now let’s make lying on the mat for longer and longer durations more and more rewarding.
We will use a technique referred to as 300 Peck to build duration. This is a reward-system that helps us build duration in behaviours by always working within the dog’s capabilities.
Start with your dog lying happily on their mat. Start every session with five rewards, one after another, delivered on the mat. Instead of tossing a reward off the mat to reset, start our counting game:
Count 1, reward on the mat
Count 1, 2, reward on the mat
Count 1, 2, 3, reward on the mat
Count 1, 2, 3, 4, reward on the mat
And so on…
If your dog gets up, go back and start at one again. But instead of getting into a cycle of breaking, just practice up to five using 300 Peck. And then work on sessions up to ten, then up to 20 and so on.
Your dog is learning lots, just with these simple exercises: they are learning that the mat is the place good things happen, they are learning that them just lying there makes rewards happen, they are learning to lie on the mat for longer and longer, and we are thinning out the number of rewards so they are learning to lie on their may for longer durations between rewards.
Intermediate: building distance
In class, we tend to approach this exercise a little more formally and apply 300 Peck to the number of steps taken away from the dog.
This clip shows how gradually we begin with this exercise with some young puppies; just standing up straight is the first stage of adding distance!
By using 300 Peck, you build distance in half steps or one step at a time:
Stand up straight, reward
Rock back, reward
Half a step back, return, reward
One step back, return reward
One and a half steps back, return, reward
Two steps back, return, reward
And so on.
But, at home, you can work a little less formally. You can move about the room in a more real-life fashion, always returning to reward and rewarding very regularly, every couple of seconds or so at the beginning.
Practice in short sessions of 5-10 rewards. Place the mat where you are working – step away and back in mock-up real-life situations, such as going to the counter and coming back, sitting at the table, putting something away.
If your dog is breaking more than once, you’ve pushed too much. Make it easier by staying closer and rewarding more often.
Advanced: Doing Nothing
With mat behaviour established, we can begin to help our dogs become better and better at just lying on their mat, calm and relaxed.
We do two exercises to help with this: capturing calmness and thinning ROR (rate of reward).
Start by thinning ROR – this simply means that we reward less.
- set the timer on your phone for 30 seconds
- line up ten rewards and deliver these over the 30 seconds
- each successive round, use one less reward until you just have one to deliver
- now set the timer for 60 seconds with ten rewards and repeat
Vary the time, vary the rewards. Keep it calm and quiet.
Now you are effectively capturing calmness. Sit back and catch your dog doing nothing. Culturally, we are programmed to catch a learner in the act, getting it wrong, making a mistake. In our program, we catch the dog doing the right thing!
Looking calmer, being quiet, lying on their mat, doing nothing. These behaviours earn calm praise, the quiet delivery of a piece of kibble, quietly sitting beside them, providing a calming massage (if that’s what they’re into).
Doing nothing is an advanced skill that doesn’t come naturally to most dogs. Work your way through, take your time, make it achievable for your dog every step of the way.
Option 4 Set up a Settle Context
Dogs are really good at learning contextually. This means that they learn about the picture, the set-up, that tells them that doing certain behaviours results in specific outcomes.
If we want dogs to be able to settle calmly, we do that by setting up contexts that allow that and then, that signal to the dog that settling is the best thing to do.
What you do and what happens in that context, becomes the cues that signal the dog to settle, just like you might ask a dog to sit by saying the word sit, or by holding a treat (which often cues a sit in many pet dogs).
Set your dog up for success first:
- practice in a location where your dog often settles
- use your dog’s bed that they would normally settle on
- practice when you are calm and won’t need to move about for a bit
- work when your dog is tired, such as after a walk, play or some sniffing
- have your dog on lead to reduce them moving about too much
- set up their bed beside you
- do the things you would normally do when you want your dog to settle. As soon as I sit down at my desk to work from home, Decker lies on his bed beside me. I don’t say anything, that’s just the context that’s set up.
- start them off with a lined toy, and keep rewards to a minimum
- work for very short times to start with – if you get 30 seconds of settling to start with, that’s great. Build on that by practicing regularly.
This has become my preferred exercise, especially with puppies, rather than starting with more structured matwork. Start with this, and then we can add the “training exercise” version later.
Now it’s your turn. Show us what you and your pets, of any species, can do with these challenges!
Post to your social media accounts, using the #100daysofenrichment so that we can find you and join our Facebook group to share your experiences, ideas and fun!
You can comment right here too 🙂
We look forward to hearing from you and your pets – have fun & brain games!
Decker warms up his brain on his mat, in the sun!