Friday, February 4, 2022

Emotional States of Dogs

Understanding K-9 emotions and how emotions can effect your dog's behaviors.

It's very important to understand that reactions to things in the environment are driven by emotions.  In order to teach a dog to choose better behaviors in challenging situations, you need to address the emotions that are driving the behaviors the dog is demonstrating.

The easiest of emotions to recognize is when a dog reaches the "fight or flight" response.  Often a dog who experiences this state frequently is labeled as a "reactive" dog.  I detest labels!  And the term reactive has to be the worst label people assign dogs.  If you really think about it, ALL dogs & animals (even humans) are reactive.  We react to things every day!  Our stomach growls, we eat.  A friend cries, we comfort.  Someone cuts us off, we start yelling.  I could go on!  Animals need to eat, so satisfying that need by hunting and/or gathering is instinct. But animals learn not to hunt certain other animals due to emotions. 

You've probably heard that elephants hate mice, and will therefore run away.  I have never trained an elephant so I can't say if that's a true life situation or not but it's a perfect example to prove my point.  FEAR is a very powerful EMOTION!  Prey animals often avoid hunting other animals that have defense mechanisms that trigger fear or negative experiences.  Most dogs are sprayed by skunks at least once in their life.  Some dogs take longer to learn that lesson and get sprayed a few times before deciding to avoid smelly skunks.  And yet other dogs have so much fun chasing skunks that they are willing to put up with the stench to experience the thrill of the case.  This is a great example of how previous life experiences affect the emotions that drive our dogs' behaviors.

To change behaviors around distractions, you have to first change the emotions driving the behaviors.  And for that you need to understand the emotional states dogs go through.  This slideshow defines the basic emotional states or frame of mind that dogs can be in at any moment. Some dogs will transition more slowly as their reaction escalates, while others will transition from state to state very rapidly.


It's important to remember that both the top and bottom (Red Lined) are bad emotional states. The center of the chart is where training can be done so I'm going to start in the middle.

Comfortable is where we as people want for ourselves and our dogs most of the time. In this emotional state, we are happy & content with nothing around us that is impacting our behaviors. People tend to think of this as a "perfect world" environment and that carries over to our dogs. Comfortable is better than good, it's great!

Then spanning either way is a mild change that may not be perfect, but still easily accepted as an OK environment. Your dog might see or hear a bird then either reacts turning to look for the bird or completely ignoring the bird. This makes the bird interesting or no fun. Change the bird to another object such as a toy you want your dog to play with, for example I'll use Azul and a ball. A ball laying still on the floor is simply no fun for Azul who really doesn't like balls. The chances of Azul picking up a ball and bringing it to me in hopes of a game are very low because the ball is boring. If I pick up a ball Azul will pick his head up and look at me. He's thinking about what will happen next, he's interested.

Now add my ball obsessed dog Cam to the picture. Cam quickly escalates to a wired state if anyone in our house touches a ball. For Azul, this means his interest level increases greatly. He doesn't want the ball, but he loves when Cam runs so the ball predicts possible fun to begin.

Now if Azul was apprehensive of Cam, Cam's running could easily make Azul anxious. But what often happens is Azul darts back and forth a few times until he jumps to the next emotional state of being overwhelmed. He can no longer take the excitement and he begins trying to hump Cam. Azul is over-aroused! In this yellow state I need to calm things down preventing both dogs from moving into the next emotional states. In the yellow zones of being overwhelmed or anxious, it's still fairly easy to control the situation and guide both dogs back to a better state of being. Dogs who spend too much time in this yellow state tend to move really quickly into the orange and red states which is where all bad things happen.

A dog in the orange states of afraid or wired is no longer able to learn. If a dog hits these states, you need to make immediate changes to help your dog move back towards the center of the chart. Life in general is very unpredictable, so it's nearly impossible to have a life where the dog never hits these states. But we as people, have to do our best to try. Repeated exposures to triggers that send our dogs to an orange state can be very hazardous to our dogs. And some dogs after repeated exposures either stay in this state for very long periods of time (think months or years) or very quickly escalate to a redlined state, skipping this orange state entirely.

Redlined dogs are pretty much working on instinct, doing whatever behavior they need to use to improve the situation. And yes a dog can just as easily move from the center, “comfortable” state down the chart in happy ways to become over excited, wired, and red lined. We typically hear of this going the other direction from comfortable, to anxious, to afraid, to red lined. You've probably seen or heard of people describing that it was as if someone flipped a switch and their loveable dog turned into a wild beast.

So how do you keep your dog from moving into a red lined emotional state? Distance! You put distance between your team and the triggering distraction. How much distance? That depends on the dog! And how long it takes for the dog to move back to a calm state. I'll explain distance better in other posts.

Getting back to the situation with the ball.... Occasionally I allow Azul to chase Cam while Cam is playing ball. But then I have to watch Azul very closely, stopping the game before Azul is over-aroused. However, most of the time I leave Azul up on our porch which has a gate preventing Azul from reaching the ball game yard. Since Azul isn't running, he stays in a more neutral or excited state. Once Cam is done playing ball, I can switch places, leaving Cam on the porch and playing a game of tug with Azul.

Preventing escalation is always the best approach. The closer your dog moves toward the red area the higher their cortisone levels reach. And a dog who redlines will have higher cortisone levels for 3 days after the trigger. This is why we need to do our absolute best to help our dogs avoid entering the orange and red zones as much as we possibly can!

Our best training happens when we keep our dogs in the center 3 states of mind. It's nearly impossible to get a dog to redirect their focus back to their person unless they are in one of these emotional states. This is where we want them to stay when we are doing training sessions around distractions!

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

February Focus on Behaviors

 

Welcome to the February Theme: Focus on Behaviors

February being the month of LOVE, we are going to talk about how to get your dogs to do the behaviors you love more often as well as talk about ways for you to love your dogs!  And since we really only have 3.5 weeks this month, I'm going to divide this theme into 3 basic categories:

  • Understanding K-9 emotions and how emotions can effect your dog's behaviors.
  • Providing enrichment based love to all of your dog's daily needs.
  • How to get the most out of your reinforcement value towards behaviors you LOVE.
All dogs naturally have some basic emotions that effect their Core Effect Space or general well being.  I will be satisfying the science geek by discussing these emotions and how you can understand what your dog is feeling based on the behaviors and body language they are offering you.  This is something that all good Behavior Consultants study and use to help their clients work through troubling behaviors.  Pet Owners and Dog Trainers can also benefit from at least a basic understanding of the science behind Core Effect Space can help you to help your dog.

If you've been working with a force free trainer or you've made a commitment to your dog to train with force free methods, you no doubt have heard about using enrichment feeding toys at meal time to work your dog's brain, help with anxiety, and train an extended settle.  But our dog have needs beyond food, water, and shelter that help them to have the most enriching life possible.  Let's be honest, our dogs pretty much live in a human world of human rules so isn't it time we help them learn to enjoy the dog world in a way that fits nicely in our human world?  We will discuss how you can make simple changes to your daily routines to increase your dog's enrichment and love for life.

Force Free (FF) training is often referred to as Positive Reinforcement (+R) Training, and the 2 go hand in hand.  However there is more to +R training then handing out well timed food rewards.  Just like dogs have needs of more then just food, they also can be reinforced by other things along with food.  We are going to be discussing how games and behavior chains can become self reinforcing for your dog.  There are also many reinforcers naturally hidden in your day to day life with your dog so we will be talking about how to use those hard to find reinforcers.  And last but not least, we will be discussing how to use your dog's favorite reinforcers to get the behaviors you LOVE to be repeated more frequently.

It's going to be a quick and busy month of LOVE so why not spend it with your dog, learning how to help your dog have a more full life, and learning how to train your dog to repeat the behaviors you LOVE.  As always, if you have any questions about any of the posts in this series, please email me at yooperpaws@gmail.com or send me a message through the Yooper Paws FB page.



Monday, January 31, 2022

New Environment Training for Service Dogs

Helping Service Dogs be Successful in Early Public Access Training Sessions

Public Access Training should be among some of the last training sessions that you do with your Service Dog in Training!  Be sure to read my previous posts in this series, especially posts 9 through 11 about new environments.  This is the final post in my January series: Plan for Success and it targeted specifically at my Service Dog training clients.

Start slow by getting used to the environment before the environment!

The Car:

After getting my puppy used to riding in the car, some of our first pre-PA training sessions happen right there in the car.  We go thru drive thru's at restaurants, banks, and such, pay at the pump gas stations, and hang out in parking lots together from inside the car.  This can be done with young puppies before they are fully vaccinated and older dogs as well!  Pair the car outing with some great food and simply reward for being in the environment.  Then as the sessions advance, reward only when the dog looks toward a potential distraction such as a car driving passed, a person moving, another dog, a shopping cart, etc.  You can also start out in 5 min sessions, slowly building up to 20 minute sessions.  As you add time, you slow down your reinforcement rate and only deliver treats when something unusual happens or if you notice any fear or discomfort setting in. 

The Parking Lot:

The next step is to start some training sessions outside of the car.  Practice basic manners and obedience cues in the grassy areas on the outside of parking lots, slowly moving through the parking lot.  The first thing I do when I get out of the car with a dog is give them some time to sniff around, getting familiar with the environment and taking a moment to go potty.  Before I leave the grass, I will do a few simple behaviors and make sure that my dog is calm enough to listen to my cues.  This helps you to determine if your dog is stressed or overly distracted.  If your dog is not able to listen to your cues, you are in an environment that they are not yet ready to be in so find a quieter location.  If your dog is able to follow your lead, you can continue with your training session.

Doorways:

Once my dog is comfortable on the outside edges of a parking lot, I start working on parking lot manners, mainly walking on a loose leash, stopping for traffic, and walking near people & carts.  Depending on your dog, you may be able to do this type of training for just a couple of sessions or it may take longer.  I've had dogs that needed to work in parking lots for a few months, slowly progressing to busy, more active & distracting parking lots.  Take it at your dog's pace paying attention to their emotional state and you will progress much more quickly then you think.  As you are working in parking lots, choose a slower location and time of day to slowly make your way towards the door.  Pausing outside the door to watch some people coming and going.  Take some time to run through some basic cues in this location too.  

Pet Friendly Stores:

Then when you think your dog is ready, take a few steps into the store. This should be a pet friendly store even if you are training a dog to be a Service Dog!  There are a lot more pet friendly stores then you would think, you just have to look around your community.  Hardware stores, craft stores, and sporting goods stores tend to be pet friendly, so call or stop in without your dog and see if they allow dogs in the store.  Plan your first session to be outside the store for about 15 minutes and inside the store for only 5 minutes.   With time, at your dog's rate you can start slowly transitioning it to be the opposite, 5 minutes outside and 15 minutes inside.  Stick to just one or two stores to practice in until your dog becomes extremely comfortable in those stores.  Then you can slowly add in new locations, new distractions, and longer visits.  But don't forget to stop in the grass and let your dog sniff for a few minutes then capture focus before going into any store.

Service Dogs Public Access Situations:

There is no set formula or stage that your Service Dog in Training is deemed "ready" for public access training.  But every trainer has their own guidelines or things they want to be able see in a dog before beginning public access training.  Here is a short list of my preferred behaviors that I want my dogs to know and have a history of achieving in pet friendly locations:

  • The ADA states that Service Dogs must be fully potty trained before being taking into any public access related environment.  Sure accidents happen, dogs get sick, etc.  But this should be a rare occurrence that your dog has an issue in the store.  I want to see that all my dogs can potty on cue before I start working in pet friendly locations & I want to see that they have generalized that to multiple environments before I start PA training.
  • The ADA also states that Service Dogs must be under handler control at all times.  While this can mean a lot of different things, but bare minimum I want my dog to be able to walk nicely on a loose leash.  I don't expect a perfect competition heel, but I want my dog to be able to follow my walking lead matching my pass and direction changes accordingly.
  • I also want my dog to feel safe, calm, and comfortable walking with other people nearby.  And while this is a process that can be perfected during PA training, I want to see that my dogs remain fairly stress free or the handler is prepared to take whatever steps necessary to help the dog feel safe.  I won't take any dog in training into a place where I'm not prepared to leave immediately if they start to show signs of stress!
  • Lastly, I want to have a few cues generalized to be able to use as needed in the environment; sit, down, under, wait, etc.  Each handler needs to decide these cues for themselves as there is no hard and fast right set of behaviors that are dictated by laws.  If you are not sure what you want to have in place for your Service Dog in Training I suggest you review the AKC Canine Good Citizen Test as a bare minimum standard of training.  Your dog may not be 100% perfect on all behaviors, especially if they are in the adolescent phase, but you want to be happy, comfortable, and confident in their skills before you take them into a public access environment.  Remember to practice all new skills in pet friendly environments so you can begin the proofing process before you ask your dog to do a behavior in a public access situation.
Federal laws do not cover Service Dogs in Training, only Service Dogs.  So be sure to research your state and local locals involving Service Dogs in Training before you decide to take your dog into a public access setting.  If your state does not cover Service Dogs in Training, you will also have to have your dog trained to do at least one task that mitigates your disability to meet the ADA requirements before you start Public Access Training.  If you have additional questions about how I work in new environments, please reach out to me by leaving me a comment or sending me an email.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Adding Friends & Family into Training Sessions

Adding Friends & Family into Training Sessions

As pet owners, we love our pets and it’s easy for us to think that all our friends and family love our pets too. That’s not always the case! And sometimes our pets are not very fond of some of our family members either. So, what can we do to set up our dogs for success when we want to take them into a friend or family member’s house?

First and foremost, whether you have a family dog or a working dog, such as a Service Dog, you must contact the person you will be visiting and get permission to bring your dog with you. Not only is this a way to show respect for the person you’re visiting, it also gives you an opportunity to discuss some things that you might need to manage during your visit.

Here are a few things to consider:
  • What are the household rules? Are dogs allowed on the furniture or not? How about the carpet or in bedrooms? The quickest way to offend a person you’re visiting is to have your dog entering parts of the house they don’t allow their dogs to be in.
  • Is there a designated “Go Potty” spot outside? Please be prepared to take care of any poop your dog may leave behind when you take them away from your property!
  • Are there other pets in the home that may or may not like your dog? If there are other pets, how will you introduce them slowly or how will you keep them separated?
Having this discussion before you show up with your dog can be very helpful! Also, be prepared for your dog’s current training level to backslide a bit in a new household, especially if you have not generalized their cues in multiple environments. This new environment is sure to be filled with new sights, sounds, smells, and fun, which is really going to impact your dog’s ability to focus on you and maintain their manners. Leave your leash on when you first enter and until you can see your dog starting to calm down. Even if the dog is dragging the leash, this becomes a safe way to quickly get hold of your dog if you need to.

If you are going for an extended overnight visit, take some of your dog’s things from home to help him realize that you are settling in. These things can also help with management in this new environment if your dog begins to struggle. A bed or crate will let your dog know where their safe place is when you want them to settle. A baby gate can allow your dog to see you while also preventing access to certain rooms such as the kitchen or dining room. Your dog may be able to easily settle in their bed or at your feet at home during mealtime but might really struggle with this in a new place. Helping them settle in their spot with an enrichment feeder can make all the difference in the world in an over-stimulating environment.

Meeting Friends & Family in Pet Friendly Environments

Whether it’s an extended visit where you are staying in someone’s home or just an afternoon outing with friends, meeting in a pet friendly environment can also be a great way to start out on a successful note. Again, there are a few things to consider first! You want to choose your environment wisely based on the age and energy levels of everyone in your group.

Sometimes a local park or walking trail can be excellent for meetings with dogs that have never met. I also prefer to do this with dog friends that we see often as it provides a chance for the dogs to be a little extra excited in a doggie fashion as opposed to an indoor place where you want your dog to be on their best behavior. Unless your local dog park is fairly quiet, that might not be the best location because, if other dogs are being unruly or rude, that will set the tone for the relationship you are developing with your dog and your friend’s dog.

I like to seek out public places with fences for introducing dogs that have never met before. This way, each dog can be safe on their own side of the fence during the first greeting. First impressions matter so both dogs need to feel safe and have a desire to engage with each other if you want a successful introduction. If a fenced area is not available, start in a large open space where you can work at a distance that both dogs can remain calm and under threshold, allowing them to glance toward the other dog occasionally but still focus on their person.

Don’t rush this step! Let them get used to just being in the same environment for greeting. Most dogs will want to explore a new environment as soon as they arrive and adding in a new face-to-face meeting at this time can quickly push the dogs into an over-excited, uncontrollable mindset. If you are dying to run up and hug or greet the person you are meeting, do this before unloading the dogs from your vehicles.

Going with Friends & Family into Public Environments

This is kind of where I step over into the Working Dog Trainer mode for Service Dogs, Therapy Dogs, and other professional dogs with excellent manners. But these tips also apply to the person who wants to take their pet to outdoor events such as concerts, ball games, and family picnics.

My first piece of advice is to start small and work your way up to bigger activities and groups of friends. Before you think about attending a larger family gathering or community outdoor event, you want to make sure your dog has been successful at multiple trips to the park and/or walking trails with strangers around. Then, take your dog on a few outings that are solely focused on training in that environment.

Instead of going to an hour-long concert or walking around a busy flea market, plan to spend 10-15 minutes walking around the outskirts of an event that is not important to you at all. Avoid showing up at the beginning or end of an event when lots of people are moving around and setting up. Show up somewhere in the middle, do some walking and sniffing in the parking lot or a distance away from the action and slowly make your way closer to the more crowded environment. Stop at any distance that your dog starts to show signs of over-excitement or stress. You may be able to hang out in that spot for a little while to see if your dog adjusts or, you may need to back away just a bit so that your dog can become comfortable and settle for a few minutes.

You want to do this as many times in solo (just you and your dog) sessions as it takes for both you and your dog to be comfortable with their behaviors. Then, when you are ready, have a friend or family member meet you there. They can stay and enjoy the event, but you need to still be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice should your dog become uncomfortable or struggle to maintain their manners.

If you are going to an event that is important to you, such as a concert that a loved one is performing in or a parade that you want to stay for the duration of, do yourself a favor and leave your dog at home until you have done the work of having as many training sessions as it takes to help your team be successful together. Then you’re ready to start adding in more friends and family to your sessions to increase your group size. For me, this means that I might take my dog on a hike with my husband, then another time to the park with my granddaughter, yet another time to a concert with a friend. Only then will I start to take my dog to community events with larger groups of friends. It’s much easier for your team to be successful when you play at a quiet park with just 1-2 kids on several different days before you try a huge family outing with other adults and kids in your group plus strangers and dogs. This works the same for taking your dog to a sports event. Have kids that you know play some basketball near your dog before going to attend an actual basketball game. Apply this to whatever sport you want to attend, such as soccer, tennis, baseball, etc.

For my working dogs, make sure you are successful in outdoor environments before moving into pet friendly public places. When you are ready to start training indoors, back up to solo sessions starting with just you and your dog at 10-15 minutes.

Then invite a calm, positive person to join you in a session. You will probably notice that your dog struggles a little bit with focus now that you have a person moving with you everywhere. Your dog may even be more focused on the new addition than they are with you. Stick with this in short sessions until your dog learns to ignore the person you are with and gives you the focus you are after before you start adding in multiple people. The more distracted you are with talking to, watching, or playing with other people in your group, the more distracted your dog will be too. Teamwork goes both ways! If you disengage with your dog in these early training sessions, your dog will also disengage with you and seek out their own fun. If you are looking for more pet friendly places that you can practice in with your well-mannered pet, contact your local hardware and craft stores as many of them are pet friendly.

Please don’t take your pet dog into places that are not pet friendly! These environments only allow access to Service Dogs and, sometimes, Service Dogs in Training. This is extremely rude and often dangerous for Service Dog teams when pets visit places that they have not been sufficiently trained for.

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