What is Environmental Processing?Dog's naturally process any environment they use looking at things, sniffing things, listening to the sounds, etc. While this is a natural occurrence, some dogs do a better job of environmental processing then others do. We tend to focus so hard on teaching our dogs to walk nicely on leash, ignore distractions, and focus on us as handlers that we often don't take the time to let them process their world as a dog. And this seems to be the #1 thing I see in any dog that struggles with fear, anxiety or a lack of confidence...they simply never learned to process new environments or changes in the environment. This leads to being easily triggered by new things coming into the environment such as that person who is approaching or that dog on the other side of the park. And this leads to the behaviors that we as people don't appreciate our dogs repeating; barking, lunging, jumping, pulling, etc.
In this video Azul and I are using a longline on a rarely used trail. This trail is a mowed section inside a marsh that connects to a paved bike trail. Here we tend to see more wildlife than people with the occasional off leash dog. We use a longline for safety to make sure Azul doesn't chase wildlife or approach another dog uninvited. But it's a good environment to practice our skills together. This is his walk, on his time as he had been working for me all day. By exploring and processing this fun environment he can empty his stress bucket if he needs to. You will notice I hurry him on a few times. I don't like to do that on HIS walks but this day we only have 15 minutes to make the loop and it's much hotter then normal so I want to get us back to the vehicle for water ASAP. I spend most of his walk managing the longline and watching his body language. I can learn so much about how he's feeling by watching his movements.
In this Video, Azul has already taken his sniff-a-bout around the park and has chosen to lay down to "watch the world go by" while resting in the shade.
I've done this with Azul since he was a puppy and honestly this is how I survived adolescence! Huskies are known for being hyper and active breeds that often want to to go-go-go so I've made a point of reinforcing his ability to simply relax and watch things. By doing so Azul has learned to process things using his eyes and ears more thoroughly instead of relying solely on his sense of smell as many dogs do. Azul gets plenty of opportunity to process smells every day. But as a Service Dog, he needs to be prepared to go in lots of new and different environments, many of which he shouldn't be sniffing everything. So watching and listening are invaluable tools in his environmental processing toolkit.
More about processing new environments as a Service Dog coming up in the next blog!