March 17, 2016
What behaviors make YOU say "whoa!?"
In this environment, dogs are not at their peak mental, emotional, or physical health.
Watch Stress Recognition and Reduction in Shelter Dogs
Kelley Bollen, MS, CABC and Behavioral Consultant for the Maddie's® Shelter Medicine Program
"We need to learn to understand the language of dogs so that we can understand what our dogs are telling us. That is the secret of having a good life together."(Turid Rugaas - Calming Signals - The Art of Survival)
How does stress affect a dog's threshold?
How does stacking up these stressors trigger reactive outbursts (barking, mouthing, humping, leashing biting, etc.)?
"'Threshold' is the sweet spot, the place where learning and thinking occur, where choices are possible, and where behavior changes (good ones!) can happen."(Suzanne Clothier, "Understanding Thresholds: It's More than Under- or Over")
With fearful dogs, "threshold" is often primarily an issue of
With a Whoa Doggie, "threshold" may be
psychological, emotional or sensory.
Stressor + Stressor + Stressor = 🔥🔥🔥
Why during off leash play does a dog come running over to you, jump on you and start humping or mouthing?
(An already-excited dog who then engages in vigorous play may go over threshold if his energy level goes too high.)
Why might a Whoa Doggie leash bite as she comes out of the kennel?
(Trapped in a kennel for long amount of time, physiological needs not met, loud noises, harsh/strange smells, unfamiliar/uncomfortable environment, dogs and people passing by at close range, barking dogs all around, loneliness, too much/lack of stimulation, etc. etc. etc.).
This is a dog who, if we don't get her to engage with us before leaving the kennel, we may struggle to have success with her out of the kennel.
For dogs who are sensitive to touch - why does touch cause mouthiness?
(Dog may be inexperienced with touch, not acclimated, have pain, already be worried about something else, too much tension.)
Toys are tools. If we are to have success with this population of dogs, treats cannot be the only tool in our arsenal.
It is important to intermix periods of aerobic activity with periods of calm, engagement, and focus to keep the dog under threshold, or at least help her get back there. Play training is huge.
It is important to be on your toes and ready to redirect the dog's focus to an activity that you do want her to do.
"… all living things repeat behaviors that are rewarding, and those behaviors that aren't rewarded extinguish (go away) …"(Pat Miller, "We're Positive")
Experiment with different values of treats/food until you find something that will help you build that relationship.
If he won't eat and you're pretty sure he would normally nom some goodies, you may be over threshold, your treats may not be high value enough, the situation may be too stressful, or he may already be full.
Find some other way to motivate him.
Maybe he won't eat your treats but he loves a toy, smelling all the things, or some other activity.
Use that "functional reward" to make a connection instead!
Keep sessions short and end on a positive note, even if it wasn't mind blowing.
Take advantage of teachable moments; turn a potty break into a thinking walk.
Know when to let the dog set the pace, and know when to take it up a notch.
Allow the dog some autonomy and freedom, when appropriate. Once a dog realizes he has a choice, he may be willing to work with you.
A "functional reward" is whatever the dog decides is rewarding
at this moment.
"It is always the dog who decides what(Grisha Stewart, empoweredanimals.com)
the Functional Reward is."
The Premack Principle states that you can use a high probability behavior to reinforce a low probability behavior.
("If you eat your vegetables, you can have dessert.")
Especially with this subset of shelter dogs, toys are not a frivolity or just something to leave a dog alone with. Play training and play time are as important for shelter dogs as potty breaks.
Toy play is one of the first things to go when a dog is stressed and over threshold. So whether a dog will play with toys is often a good barometer for his stress level.
The goal is to bring the dog's stress level down to the point that his physiological and safety needs are met. After that, his willingness to play will often emerge.
Catch the behaviors early in their onset
How to market these dogs to adopters
Do these activities in kennel as well as out.
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