Archives for posts with tag: positive

POG: parent/owner/guardian

Anyone have a dog that is sound-sensitive? Bad with, say, smoke alarms? Fearful, even? You will relate to this story.

It happened to me and Tawny the Wonder Dog, my at-least-10-year-old mix who over the years has been my baby, frustration, teacher, lab rat, best friend, partner. As a trainer, I couldn’t have asked for a bigger challenge or a better dog. As a POG, I am hopelessly in goofy dog love with her. As a person, I am a crazy Gemini, and I often feel the twins fighting over who I should be when dealing with her. Since she came to me in 2004, we have worked through many of her issues, including lots and lots of fear problems. These days, she is not easily rattled, even by the big semis thundering past us on our walks and the earth movers tearing up the concrete at the end of my street.

With that background in mind, here’s the story: Recently, I was in my bedroom folding laundry, Tawny snoozing on the bed. I had just turned the TV on (ancient TV that had been giving off a slight burny smell for a few days. No biggie, I thought, still works! [Yes, I am a cheapskate.]).

Apparently, this was now more than a slight smell, because the smoke alarm went off. Tawny flew off the bed; I said something unrepeatable in polite company, turned the TV off and turned the bathroom fan on. The alarm stopped but then started again, and the other two alarms that are waaaay too close to the first one (thanks, design geniuses) went off too.

As I was standing there contemplating my next move, I noticed Tawny cringing in the hallway, shaking hard enough to rattle the teeth out of her head. I had never seen her like that before, scared yes but not terrified. She was terrified.

When I saw that, I reacted as any loving dog POG would. I wanted to wrap my arms around her and tell her everything would be all right. I wanted to comfort her and make her feel better.

It took every bit of inner strength I had not to do it.

It killed me, but as a trainer I know that comforting a dog when s/he is frightened is the worst thing you can do because it reinforces the fear reaction. I had to help her, but I couldn’t do it that way.

Instead, I led her into the garage, where there are no smoke alarms, while I turned off the circuit breaker that powered them. I left her in there while I pulled all the back-up batteries so they weren’t chirping. I then called my mom, even though it was very late, and asked her to if I could bring Tawny over while I sorted this out.

After I was reasonably certain I had the alarms reset/back to normal, I retrieved my girl. Clearly, she was still freaked out–following me everywhere, crouched low, tail down, eyes bugging, heavy panting. Did not want to go in the bedroom. And omigod that bone-shattering shaking. I was afraid she was going to have a heart attack.

Still, I resisted the urge to hold her and calm her down. It was agonizing, but I had to. Instead, I did what I tell all my students, clients, friends and family to do. I completely ignored her fear and went about acting as if nothing had happened. I returned to folding my laundry. I plunked down on the couch and turned on the non-burny-smell family room TV. I yawned. I sighed. I talked to her when she looked like she was less tense.

After what seemed like forever, she lay down and rested her chin on her paws. Later she followed me back into the bedroom, clearly stressed, and eventually went up on the bed and fell into an exhausted, snore-filled sleep. I stayed awake for a long time after, watching her sleep, hoping the alarms would stay quiet, and worrying how she would be tomorrow. I was fearful this had traumatized her, and that I would have to work hard to recover her.

But here is the best part of this story. This is why I love being a trainer, and why I’m glad my trainer twin won over my POG twin.

It worked.

Tawny woke up the next day just fine. I noticed a slight hesitance on her part to go into the bedroom, but it quickly went away. And I have seen no lasting effects whatsoever.

I know my methods are sound, and I had every confidence what I did was right and would work. But like every other person on the planet who suffers when their dog suffers, my first helping instinct was the wrong one. Had I not fought that urge and followed my trainer instincts, I would have had a very different outcome. And a lot more work to do. Instead, after one long night, I had my dog back 100 percent.

Still, it was really, really painful. I love T to pieces and never want her to struggle. I’m glad I managed to do what was best for her. I hope it never happens to you, but if it does, maybe this will give you the strength to do the best thing for your dog as well.

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One of the more interesting things I get to do as a trainer is play around with trigger sequences.

A trigger sequence is the series of things that leads to a particular behavior. So for example when you want your dog to sit, the sequence that you would use to trigger that behavior might be saying the word “Sit” and holding one hand palm up in front of her. If you change the word or the hand signal, you may not get the behavior you want because you have altered the sequence.

Most sequences are more complicated than that, even if they don’t appear so. That sit sequence, for example, might also involve only the right hand, a certain tone, a tilt of the head, a lean forward. Not knowing that could cause one to fail in getting a sit and to frustrate thinking the dog is being “stubborn” because she is not following orders.

Proofing commands involves pulling apart that sequence, presenting one piece at a time, making sure that the dog will perform the desired behavior when only one trigger is available, say just the word “Sit” or just the hand signal. Though somewhat laborious, it is the way to best get a reliable response from your dog.

Trigger sequences are involved in all sorts of behaviors, from sits and downs to separation anxiety to barking at the door or pulling on the leash or snapping, etc.

What’s really cool and fun about them is discovering them (say when I test a rescue to see what commands he knows) and also experimenting with altering them. Sometimes you can stop a “bad” behavior immediately by disrupting the sequence, say removing or altering even one piece.

I have found this can happen a lot with barking. Which is good, because barking drives people crazy, so it’s nice to be able to sometimes get a quick change on something like that. I like to play with my tone. People love to yell at their dogs to knock it off, which typically only serves to escalate the barking. So I will try a “What’s that?” inquiry-type tone, or “Good job!” praise to see if the dog will be confused enough to look at me like “Huh?” or at least hesitate for a moment, long enough for me to get in there and redirect.

One example that’s fun to relate involves a Westie I worked with recently. Her barking at the front window was driving her owners nuts (and they had tried “everything”). While they were standing there, I prevented a barking frenzy as two people passed the house by simply saying “Who’s that? Good girl!” over and over while the people went by. The owners were literally gobsmacked, but all I did was change the trigger sequence. With a piece missing, it didn’t prompt her usual reaction. Was she “fixed?” Heavens, no. But it was a start.

So the next time your dog starts to do something you don’t like, see of you can figure out the trigger sequence, or at least one part of it, and try to mess up the sequence. Try to laugh instead of yelling! If it stops the behavior, remember to jump in with a boatload of rewards so you can cement that “good” behavior sequence in your dog’s brain. Easier said than done, I know…

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