Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Games Help Distracted & Fearful Dogs

Games Help Distracted Dogs

These 3 dogs (Azul, Roz, & Maverick) are all Service Dogs which means they need to be able to focus on the job no matter what is happening around them. Many dogs are easily distracted in the presence of other dogs. Games such in this picture can help dogs learn to focus around distractions. This is a calming game to help the dogs relax after a play session. Their job is to stay on their station and listen for their name to be called to release them. It may sound simple, but it's not easy for dogs that were just racing around.

Games can be set up differently depending on your overall goal. You can set up something with lots of movement if you want to get your dog responding to cues more rapidly or your can set up something with very little movement if you want your dog to calm down. For dogs that struggle with rebounding after something really exciting or fearful, you can design games that start fast and slowly switch tracks to calmer, slower activities.

Often people get stuck on thinking a dog will rest when they get tired, then give dogs more exercise when bad behaviors start to happen. Sometimes a puppy chewing on your shoes needs a walk or play time, but sometimes that puppy chewing on your shoes really needs a nap but does know yet how to settle. Just like children, dog's do not come pre-installed with an off switch. Thankfully games can be used to help teach a dog calming behaviors that they can do without destroying the house. You wouldn't go on a roller coaster or something really exciting that gets your adrenaline up, then simply lay down for a nap. It's not really fair to expect our dogs to do that on their own either.

As in the picture above, the dogs became really aroused or excited by playing with each other. They played roughly 20 minutes in the Go-Go-Go mindset. When they'd had enough, they came to me for human interaction. All 3 dogs followed me around the Training Center while I gathered the stations. This took them from a running state of adrenaline rush down to a slower but still moving state of mind. Once the stations were set up, they all chose their own station. I started with simply asking them all to come to me for a treat, then get on a station for a treat, having them all move back forth. Then we slowly transitioned to everyone holding their position until their name was called to come get a treat and return to their station. All of this was taught with previous games starting with 1 dog at a time.

This brings me to another point in why we need to use games for training, No matter what game you set up, there is always a way to make it slightly harder, slightly more entertaining, slightly more reinforcing for the dog. Games always start simple and build up! Watch this cone game with Azul to see how we start with a simple Go Around.

In this Movement Puzzle the frisbees represent a start and stop place where reinforcement will be delivered. The cones start out really close together so Azul can learn the basics of going around. Then the cones start to move out further apart to work on the concept of working at greater distances. Azul struggles when I change things to quickly, so I have to change my game set up to make it easier. This meant I had to get another cone to fill the empty space so he didn't take a short cut. Azul already knows the cue to go around but he's never played this game before so he's moving slowly. At the end Azul tells me he is done with this game by going in between my legs. This tells me he wants to play his favorite game of moving together as a team with Azul standing between my legs. We are a bit out of camera range for this game, but I think you can tell what we are doing.

Games Help Fearful Dogs

When Lana first came into the Yooper Paws Training Center she was extremely scared, timid and barky! Like many owners, Lana's person didn't quite know what she was getting into when she agreed to give Lana a home. While Lana's person knew a great deal about training Aussies, she needed help figuring out how to deal with the fearfulness. We spent 6 sessions building up Lana's confidence around other people and dogs, teaching Lana how to process the threats in the environment better and how to communicate her needs to her person. Lana's person learned to read Lana's micro movements to better predict when Lana would feel the need to lash out in a barking frenzy. Helping Lana feel safe, calm, and happy in the environment was our goal.

Lana and her person now join in on the Wednesday morning walks almost every week. She used to bark at the sight of one dog, and now she walks with 3-5 other dogs successfully. On our Distracted & Fearful Dog Walks, we stop to play games throughout the walk. We use games that help dogs learn to walk passed other dogs on the trail, learn about being the leader of the walk and following other dogs, explore the environment, and focus on their person when requested. Lana and her person display awesome teamwork on these walks as they support each other along the trail.

We also introduced Lana to nosework! This one thing of learning how to use her nose to find an object of interest or a specific scent has helped Lana tremendously. Lana went from barking and asking to leave the Training Center to now wanting to run into the training center for some fun. I try to always have some good things for Lana to sniff, lick, and chew when she arrives so that she can have some safe exploration time. Then we set up for our nosework session. Check out this video that shows a simple set up where Lana is trying to find the scent in a box.

Lana sure makes finding the scent look easy! Many times she goes right to the box with the scent without even questioning the other box. Since Lana is still working on confidence building we provide lots of searches where she can easily be successful. The video above is just a short clip of the session, if you want to watch the full video it is over 20 minutes long and available on the Yooper Paws YouTube Channel.

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