It’s been a little over a month since I last wrote about our “Disneyland” excursions and of course, a lot has happened. I will do my best to give you an overview and am sure I will revisit this topic again. Feel free to email or call me if you have questions about our education process! Sindi@WildTame.com or 619-797-0705.
The main piece of information that I would like to communicate, is that if you have a reactive dog, a shy dog, a fearful dog, an under-socialized dog, an aggressive dog or absolutely any characteristic of any type of dog, there are techniques and approaches to help teach new behaviors. You can also learn how to have clearer communication and a better understanding of your dog’s behaviors. If you have doubts, then I encourage you to do what you need to do to get rid of that uncertainty. Doubts are limits. They can discourage us and keep us from moving forward. It is necessary to believe change can happen. For change to occur, you must first want change and then you must believe it is possible. The same is true for animals. That’s why positive reinforcement training can work so well! We basically show them why choosing the alternative behavior is more rewarding and beneficial than the behavior we want to change. Animal communication, energy awareness and reading helps expedite things, by giving insight into a particular individual animal’s thoughts, emotions and history.
In Rock’s case, yummy treats, praise and affection are now more highly valued than any adrenaline rush or benefit that his reactivity gives him. That is why he now turns his head to look at me instead of lunging towards dogs. The point of reinforcement training, in my opinion isn’t to give them treats forever! We need to teach them the new behavior and make it the new habit. We need to reprogram their bodies with the new “default” behavior. Then we can wean them off the treats, praise and other rewards because it is then their “normal” behavior. It’s still fine to give treats, praise and pets because you love them. But it is best to have the eventual goal to have the behavior so ingrained these things are not needed to obtain the desired result.
The one thing that I find is missing in some training experiences is us people, making changes ourselves. Not actively making change ourselves, can not only slow down the educational process, but it can cause learned behaviors to be less permanent than we would like. I use meditative visualization techniques to assist me to not only reduce stress, but to also consciously create change. This includes confronting my fears and “issues” and changing habits. It is unfair for me to expect Rock to change, if I am not willing to change. As he moves from reactivity to responding in the present moment, I also let go of my reactive tendencies. Don’t we all have them? When someone pushes your buttons, do you respond calmly or do you react quickly with full emotion? Working with Rock has assisted me to be more grounded, more aware and more in the present moment. I had been working on being more consciously responsive and less reactive before adopting Rock. Him being in my life has definitely gotten my attention and helped expedite my personal healing process. So… thank you, Rock!
My approach is not one sided. I believe that in order for a newly learned behavior to “stick,” we too must be aware of our own habits and tendencies. For example, if your dog lunges at people on moving bicycles, then every time you see a moving bicycle, you tense up anticipating your dog’s reactivity, how can you possibly expect your dog to not react?! You are basically telling him and teaching him to do exactly what you are thinking you don’t want. If that doesn’t make sense, contact me! I have other analogies and can give additional information to anything I comment on in my blog. 🙂
Rock and I have both learned a lot. Rock enjoys going to the park now. And I enjoy taking him there. I am completely engaged in the environment, both what is going on around us and Rock’s reaction to it. One behavior that has become a pretty consistent default behavior for Rock I mentioned already. It is that when we are approaching a potentially stressful situation, such as a person with a dog, Rock turns to me. This is one of the most awesome things! Let me replay for you a couple of scenarios.
Scenario #1 a.k.a. THEN: Rock has been my companion now, for six months. When I first started walking him and he would see a dog, he would pull to the end of the leash, lunge and bark like he had no intention of ever stopping. He was fully committed to this behavior in this situation. If he could have gotten loose, which did happen one time, he would run to the dog. Luckily, he is reactive on leash and by the time he reached the other dogs (yes, dogS!) off leash he sniffed them, but it appeared to be a civil greeting. Rock isn’t reactive in the same situations off leash, as he is on. I know some people reading this may have a similar experience with their dogs.
I started working with him on walks about two months or so into our relationship. From the beginning, I really just went with the flow. If something appeared that I needed to work on that would be my focus. The main thing I was concerned about in the beginning was Rock’s relationship with my housemates’ dog. That is no longer an issue to the extent it was, but it is still an area that needs attention. After that situation calmed down a bit, I started focusing on the next big area, which was reactivity on leash when on walks out in the world.
Scenario #2 a.k.a. NOW = Rock sees a potentially stressful situation, such as a dog on a leash. He watches. Sometimes he watches for a long time. I let him watch, so he has room to decide what he wants to do. For me, I see the time spent watching as giving him the time to choose to respond vs. react impulsively, as before. Anyone who questions whether dogs are capable of having an actual thought process, would really enjoy spending time with my favorite guy, Rock. For me it says a lot that instead of seeing something that used to make him “react” and now instead of reacting he watches and makes a choice. His default response now, in this situation is to watch and then, at the point where he has watched enough, he physically turns to me and makes eye contact. At this point he gets praise and treats. He totally deserves both! If you do not have a reactive dog, or don’t have experience with a reactive dog, this may not seem like a big deal. For those of us that have had the experience of the impulsive reactions, know that this is a huge transformation deserving of not only praise and treats, but grandiose celebration!!!
A couple of days ago, Rock and I ventured to a place with even more stimuli than the park by our house. We went to Lake Murray, which is in La Mesa, CA for those of you in areas outside of San Diego County. Lake Murray park, I would nickname, instead of Disneyland; DisneyWORLD! Not only are their cars, people and dogs, but also ducks, cranes, squirrels and chipmunks galore! Rock did great! We kept our distance from people and dogs, but no barking or lunging. We walked towards the lake and he found the ducks quit fascinating. I sat on a picnic table bench and he opted for the table top, allowing him a higher vantage point. We sat there for 15 or 20 minutes. Watching the ducks like we were watching Dog TV. He spent some time on the ground, but mostly on the table. He had a little reaction when he saw a huge crane. His reaction was more like, “What in the world is that?!” And he gave a very quiet woofy kind of a sound. But when I validated that it was something different, but that it was okay, he went back to watching. Glued to the set like a football fan on last Sunday. By the way… I personally am thrilled that the Seattle Seahawks won! I used to live in Seattle and was so happy for them!!!
Before I go, I have one question for you. What is your two minute walk to Disneyland? What are you letting fear get in the way of you accomplishing. You don’t have to pressure yourself into overcoming all of your fears at once or immediately. Allow it to be a healing process. A journey of unlearning and re-learning. Discover the many possibilities that fear may be hiding from you. Make it a fun time complete with treats and self-praise. It’s your life. Create it the way you want it!!!
Want help with your companion animal? Whether shy, reactive, fearful, aggressive, overwhelmingly energetic or calm as a cucumber, I can help! 619-797-0705 or firstname.lastname@example.org.