I'm sure you can all agree that life is not perfect. For a behavior trainer like myself teaching moments (to share with my students/clients) present often and sometimes I happen to be wearing pajamas! Say for example this morning while in my PJs my husband decides to spring on me that he's about to bring my brothers 80lb long haired shepherd over to meet our dogs for a future overnight.
So after my coming down from my initial stress point (threshold) WHAT??! I'm not ready I do a quick check off.
EMOTIONAL SAFETY is as important as physical safety with any interaction and how an individual FEELS DOES AFFECT the BODY. Think about times you are over worked or stressed and fearful about something. Your heart and respiratory rate increases, short of breath...maybe you faint? Dogs go through the same emotions of fear and love. We unknowingly damage a dogs perspective to the environment by allowing them to physically get too close to something they don't feel comfortable about which leads to emotionally scarring. If you know what your dog fears (called their triggers or scary monsters) are you can help your dog by giving them distance from what ever it is they fear. So think about the environment, their perspective and emotional state of mind.
So here I tried to set up a safe environment that allowed for as much distance as possible with no to low distractions for learning new behaviors. The other important piece is you and learning to get into your ZEN ZONE. Learn to breath in and breath out under pressure. Doing so a few times slowly to a count of 4 will help reduce your heart and respiratory rate causing more blood flow and oxygen to your brain so you can become calm and think.
Use your “eyes” - your observational skills to listen to what your dog is saying, you’ll better understand your dog and be able to manage them more effectively. How do you evaluate your dogs emotions? Through learning dog body language, communication and stress signals. Think about your dog based on body language (body language and other visuals by Lily Chin here.) What is the dogs body language telling us? (body stiff or wiggly? mouth closed or open? ). Figure out what is your dogs emotional state at any given moment. What color zone is the dog in?
( green=calm, yellow=hyper active aroused, red=over threshold and completely bonkers)? What is the threshold for any given trigger (their scary monster)? Is it 5 feet? 10? 100?
Video Background and Full Disclosure:
You'll observe I am somewhat still anxious (not in green zone and calm) because I was surprised and dealing with a mother who was coming in to let me know my garbage can smelled and a videographer (aka my husband who was not jazzed to help me out last minute) I am clearly not prepared for the set up (note the pajamas and my disheveled self) nor for working with our new visitor Lola (a long haired shepherd) who has no skills. Hey but that's how life works right? I do try to narrate behaviors for the video while multi tasking and managing my stress levels as you'll see.
A couple of points to keep in mind.
For some of us we may not want our dog to reinforce the chase with a small animal or child is my point here. Sure we can throw a ball or toy however have rules when you play and always let the dog win (or think they've won). Do not have your dog chase children or small things around as while this can start out as what looks like fun the dog could tip and become quickly aroused (enter the Red Zone of the Emotional Spectrum.)
Knowing a dogs traits, or natural behavioral tendencies and temperament (personality) is helpful. In this case below I want to interrupt even the beginning of the Motor Pattern so I'll look for and interrupt the Orienting (the focus behavior) at the same time because Lola is new to my home I want her to also pair good things with my dogs in my home (or association to my dogs - sounds, smell, sight). This must happen RIGHT AWAY AS SOON AS THEY MEET!
On the other end I also know my dogs are reactive to big dogs coming into thier/my home and so will become anxious quickly (trigger stack). So from the onset I’m going to think about my criteria setting. What behavior(s) do I want to reward?
I’ve done no real training with Lola who’s entered my home only introduced the secondary and primary reinforcers (the clicker and hot dogs respectively). You will see there are multiple layers of behaviors being presented by all dogs and some that could become a problem if I don’t act quickly to desensitize (DS) by interrupting, pairing or redirecting. In the clip, the proximity or distance of the dogs is a MAJOR factor for my dogs. My space is limited and for the shih tzus they are affected more than the shepherd. The shih tzus (Jimmy Choo and Stella) don’t know the new dog (Lola) that comes into the environment (their home). Lola, is too close for them and so they do tip and wig out (go over threshold into Red zone or the high arousal, with low to no ability to think). They respond by saying "bark bark bark grrrrhhh move away– I'm little but I will bite your nose!!" Distance seeking vocalizations. At the onset someone may laugh at a small dog behaving like this however its so stressful for the small regardless of their size we have to respect their need for space due to fear.
Lola on the other hand as you will be able to read from her body language has a loose body, wagging tail and at times an open mouth..she isn’t as bothered. You'll see her go toward the gate where the shih tzus are but that's only because the treats I tried throwing over the gate fell short. Lola does focus on the dogs a little longer than I would want at times and I’m trying to work on a few behaviors with her but decide the more important is to pair good things with the dogs and interrupt the possible future urge to chase the small dogs by practicing looking at me to get rewarded. Since we know our dogs world is all about equal or better values of things, the cooked greezy smelly hot dogs win out in this video. Calmer behaviors do prevail and we end after a short exchange. Always leave while the party is hopping right?
From the onset I'm also working on desensitizing (DS) both Lola and my shih tzus jimmy & stella to each other. A greater distance and having someone throw food to the shih tzus when they looked at Lola would have helped but hey did I say I was perfect? Lesson learned for next time.
On the matter of physical risk it is reduced because A) I have Lola on a leash (prefer a freedom harness but she didn't come over wearing one), B) we have a gate up to safely separate the dogs while the dogs can still see and smell each other C) I have a high value reward (hot dogs and redbarn meat). D) distance is a huge factor and I do fail here as you’ll see since I'm very close for the shih tzus. I could have moved further back or out of site but ….they worked through their emotional response to Lola. If the shih tzus continued to vocalize with barking I would have ended the session.
When we live with another species and spend so much time with them we do a disservice not learning their language. Training for me becomes a bridge to help us communicate with our non verbal canine companions. Do yourself and your family a favor and start to practice your observational skills. Look at your dogs body language and evaluate your dogs emotions. Determine where they are emotionally. We can not know what they are thinking but we can learn to understand how they feel. Have their needs been met? What is their body language saying? Are they in the Red zone? Yellow Zone? Will moving away from the trigger increase or decrease the behavior they are presenting?
As I'm hopeful I've explained using myself as an example, stress affects and interrupts our focus and thinking. Same for our dogs. Practicing training exercises allows your dog to use a different part of their brain (neo cortex) and make connections with emotional part of the brain (Limbic system) which is very close to the thinking part. So our aim is to get our dogs to practice thinking instead of reacting. For example once at a safe distance ask your dog to look at you (prompted attention exercises) or sit, or paw shake, or twirl. If your dog does a “shake off” on their own remember to MARK then REWARD every shake off. Life's not easy and its not perfect BUT it will get incrementally easier if we are able to understand and meet their basic needs. They will become more reliable to what we ask of them IF WE CONTINUE TO PRACTICE our exercises with consistency.
Okay, enjoy the clip and feel free to share your thoughts, comments or if you have any questions.
P.S ignore my morning attire pls
See video clip here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xzNGZtekSzc
Coppinger, Ray 2002. Dogs
Dr. Susan Friedman, Online course Living and learning with Animals
Vivian Zottola, CBCC, CSAT, CPDT
Certified Behavior Canine Consultant
Lola meets my dogs take 1
Lola meets my dogs take 2
can you see a difference in the dogs behaviors from take 1 to take 2?
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