Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Surely they'll get used to *it*? Sadly not for many fearful dogs...

As readers of this blog will know, I have a special interest in fearful and/or reactive dogs since being introduced to this by my own Finn. A chance conversation with a friend over the weekend raised the possibility that simply by exposing a dog to their fear-inducing stimuli, they would "get used to it" or in more technical language "habituate".

We can see how this is unlikely to work when the dog is in a highly aroused state of fear/anxiety because the learning functions simply do not operate in these situations. We (humans or dogs) find it very difficult to learn new things when we are worried/anxious or stressed. The fear quite literally overules any other information. The technique of exposing the person or dog to lots of the fearful stimuli is called 'flooding' and is considered out dated and potentially harmful in the treatment of phobias.

In theory though, when we are dealing with a low-level fear, you would expect that gradually over time as nothing terrible happens, the dog might start to relax and learn that *tennis balls/children/footballs/car travel/raindrops/plastic bags etc* are not actually that bad. I can only really speak from personal experience here - but I have only seen this happen in young puppies under about 4 months. After that, I've found that it takes actual desensitisation and counter conditioning to really impact on the dog's perceptions and fears.

For example: Farah came to me quite scared of feet moving near her and especially over her. Lifting your foot to put on a sock results in a cowering little dog. After a couple of months it became clear that nothing was really shifting - so I used a combination of limited exposure to feet with clicker training to help her interact with feet. Farah learned that instead of feet being a potential signal for pain, they were just another object to interact with and earn 'clicks' from.

So, if your dog is nervous around toys/plastic bags/the hoover/anything at all - do think about finding a way to help them relax and reframe the objects, rather than just expecting them to get used to it!

Friday, 11 September 2009

Seminar: Wednesday 28th October "Loose leash walking strategies and how to use them effectively"

At the suggestion of some of our students (thanks folks!) we are offering bi-monthly seminars. These provide a little break between each block of classes, but also allow us to go into interesting topics in more depth.

Anyone at all can attend, there is a minimal fee to cover the hall rental and you do not have to have attended classes with us already.

For some seminars you may be able to bring your dog and offer them as a volunteer, but please always check with us first!

Our first seminar will be held on Wednesday 28th October
Topic: Loose leash walking strategies and how to use them effectively
Time: 7.00pm - 8.30pm (includes a short coffee break)
Location: Acomb Parish Church Hall, Front Street, York.
Volunteers wanted: yes please!

If you'd like to attend please confirm with Morag or Janet.

Week one of classes in York - we have arrived!

So the first week of classes is over and I can honestly say it was fantastic - an amazing group of owners and dogs with some amazing breakthroughs already, and a brilliant attitude in every single session!

This week we ran week one of all four class options:
  • perfect puppies - started with a session of no dogs, much easier for everyone to concentrate, ask questions and ease those first training class nerves. My little deaf girlie was a star demo dog and even grumpy man Finn came out to show his ever growing addiction to the clicker. All our pups this time round are at the older end of the scale (4 months) but plenty of learning time to squeeze in!
  • mind your manners - ran this class as half with dogs and half without, again its just easier for the owners to concentrate. This one is for older dogs (+ 6months) who are having some challenges or need to learn basic manners. We've got some VERY bright and challenging dogs in there, but the handlers have amazing enthusiasm and attitude, feel very positive!
  • beyond the basics - this is my dream class, and best of all I'll be sharing the teaching with Janet (TTouchtrainer) so I can get some much needed feedback on my own techniques. We revised clicker and targets, agreed to cut out lures as much as possible and got really focused on cleaning up behaviours, moving to voice only cues and started to teach some new skills too. Future sessions will include building a retrieve for dogs that just don't, and the level 1 Rally-O signs.
  • confidence course - the class that started it all off really, nice mix of repeating students and some new folks, though we have more handlers who are also trainers than regular students! We reviewed some of the foundation behaviours and worked on passive attention and bodywork. More active moving exercises next week.
I have some new flooring on order for next week to enable us to use more of what is a huge hall (must post pics soon) and get more active behaviours going.

We also have a good stock of our two recommended books in (both by Sarah Fisher and Marie Miller) and I'll need to order in some more of the Control Unleashed book! (see recommended books link on the side for details)