Friday, June 3, 2016

Lions and Tigers and Bears...Oh My!!!

I was thinking about July 4th coming up, and the first thunderstorm season for many of my pups, both here and elsewhere. I know many already know this, but proactively engaging a pup before they react to something either by distracting or redirecting, when something new that could be scary is happening-is better than waiting to see how they might react. Waiting for the reaction to work on something, the pup's emotional state is already reacting/protecting/worrying-their brains are not open to your "help" at that point.

TeG who just turned 9 months, saw the ceiling fans moving for the first time this past week-motion control brilliant herding puppy that she is, she swirled under them sure she should control them, her unsure self barking at them. With cathedral ceilings, it probably wooshes that much more, and she is also in a bit of a sound sensitive stage, which is pretty normal for this age. 

I am pretty sure I turned them on a few times this past winter-but obviously it was scary for her, although in her case also likely pissing her off that she couldn't control "it". I was reminded of her first experience seeing gulls flying on the beach, racing them to try to head them off-the fans were not cooperating.

As a ceiling fan isn't a dangerous situation for her, if possible my thought is always to try to pair something that can be scary, with something they love-to help them get past the fear or initial reaction. In her case chase and tug are highly rewarding-so out came the sherpa toy flirt pole. 

Thinking of the "bubble" (distance) that was around this new scary thing, I started the game outside the bubble, far enough away (in this case back door was open, so in the yard) and got her truly engaged. After, a minute or so of play, we moved inside. She was able to continue playing tug, even as we moved under the fans. I then would ask for an "out" drop, and point to the fans-as soon as she looked at them, our tug game commenced again. Very brief nanoseconds of looking-bit for sight sensitive dogs who have been bred for centuries to be aware of minute motion-helps pair, "this thing is no big deal". There is no barking on stock for her, she is very very confident she's got that, tiny but mighty!

I could have turned the fans off and worked with her with them still first, then turned on low, etc. to incrementally help her, as I don't believe in flooding ( basically drowning a dog in triggers) for solving behavior, normally that just makes things much worse, especially for aggression. But, knowing that this pup has a core of steel and it was her not being able to control the motion that was triggering her reaction, knew that going straight to "let's work on this", was okay for her. I also kept her focus low at first dragging the toy on the ground, then started to lift it to twitch and asking for the moment of visual awareness of the fans, as she was visibly relaxed under them. Maybe not another pup, but knowing your pup and watching their core reactions, helps to have a creative approach to solving an issue.

So, for fireworks, thunderstorms and other scary stuff coming up as summer hits, do I wait to build a reinforcing game? Nope, we are building tug and chase games in the basement or a safe place-so they become so reinforcing, to pull them out of our "bag" when we need them. 

Does it work for all pups? maybe not-but when I know they are experiencing their "Firsts" of anything-especially the one trial learners, and things that can be scary-I do my best to be one step ahead and be pro-actively ready to work on it. Can't always be home, but if I am, hopefully can do group tug, downs and sits for high level rewards, as a way to make Thunder "fun", etc. 

Some pups just want to be close or held, while for others a thundershirt and melatonin might help-definitely seems to have for dogs I have gotten as adults, with previous bad experiences. Some dogs don't stomach melatonin well (Calms Forte by Hylands works too), but can give it even if a storm or fireworks have started and seems to help (I am not a Vet) If you are passively watching your puppy react to something, you are being a tourist, not the tour leader...make life a party bus!!

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