STRESSED! It is More Than Just Desserts Spelled Backwards
Following up on last week’s post on stressing. First let me explain a bit further about what I mean about “anchoring”. Basically it is a classically conditioned response. Here is something I do to give myself a “good anchor”. Anytime I have a massage or other other relaxing pleasant experience. Before I get off the table I inhale deeply and hold my breathe for 10 seconds. While I am doing that I am squeezing my right hand tightly. I do this three times– I am anchoring the feelings of contentment and relaxation into the clenched fist. Now at a trial anytime I feel upright I take that same breath and squeeze my right hand to relax myself. That is a positive anchor.
Flyball people have anchored some great responses in their dogs and most of it is probably unconscious! The word “r-e-a-d-y” will immediately get most flyball dogs into an uber-excited, ready-to-sprint state. For others the word “out” and fighting with the dog has anchored in a response of “hang on to my toy as tightly as possible” in loads of flyball (and other) dogs. That is anchoring.
So with stressing dogs, many times this stress has been brought on or at least increased in intensity by anchors you are using possibly without even being aware. I recognize that when a dog is stressing you can not “reinforce” the stress by patting or praising (because we are dealing with classical conditioning) but you can anchor these feelings to have them return again. It could be the phrase “it’s okay” or it could be the way that you stoke the dog, the way your hover over him or even the type of food that you give them giving the dog — can be the anchor that triggers re-occurance. Possibly you may be going into a defensive mode trying to shield your body from the thing you think the dog may be stressing from. You little dog people are likely picking your dog up and talking baby talk to him aren’t you? All of these well meaning acts are often acting as “anchors” that re-trigger the stress to ensure it is going to happen.
For many of the low stressing dogs you likely have never allowed the dog to feel stress and recover from it. That is a big mistake. My guess is that anytime your dog struggled while training you stepped in thinking you were “helping.” Start the recovery at home with a fun, easy game of shaping. However during the 2nd or 3rd shaping session set up a failure – – and let the dog stress. He will likely give up and try to run away. Have him on a leash or in a small controlled environment where he can’t just give up and MAKE CERTAIN your rewards are so outrageously attractive that he won’t want to give up. Teach your dog to stress and recover from it. Life is full of stressors but that doesn’t make life bad, nor does teaching your dog to work through it.
When I was younger, every time I skiied down a hill for the first time in the winter I nearly crapped my pants I was so stressed. Did that mean I called it a day and packed it in after one turn down the hill? No way! I jumped on the ski lift to go up and have another go. Yes I was stressed beyond belief but that didn’t interfere with me having fun while I was stressed. It is possible for you, for me and for your dog.
Now on the other hand, for those of you with dogs that are over-aroused and can’t get the dog to focus on you or on the job at hand. Check out your own “anchors”. Chances are the thing you have been trying to prevent could be exactly what you are trigger. It could be as obvious as using the same type of treat or favourite tug toy at ringside. Likely the biggest anchor to tell the dog to “get high” is you popping the collar or pinching their butt to get them to focus back at you while you say a phrase such as “leave it” or “watch me.” With Buzzy, I always did obedience heeling prior to agility. The problem was I rarely did obedience anywhere else so heeling became a trigger to get r-e-a-l-l-y excited because the best game in the world is about to begin, in the end obedience was a cue to go wild.
What to do now. Get my ebook “Building the Team” You will find games that can become good “anchors” for your dog. But the key is this. You MUST develop this good anchor extensively and re-charge it often away from the stress in order for it to be effective. Regardless of which direction your dog is stressing high or low– check your physiology first. I bet your breathing is rushed and shallow. Your physiology is a huge anchor and you need to be able to master it.
Some of you may have dogs that are beyond their first experience with stressing and you have inadvertently anchored this raw, fearful state for him, seemingly permanently or perhaps your dog’s “first experience” was so intense or injurious you think there is no ray of hope for improvement available.
Recovery is still available to most dogs and improvement certainly is within the reach of all. Some dogs may need the help of a licensed Behavioural Veterinarian (I am very specific about what I just wrote as many dog trainers try to present themselves as “behaviourists” and that is not to whom I am referring.) For some dogs in order to create a new altered reality you may need to use pharmaceuticals to allow the dog to first sense what “normal” really is. Either way, get started. Buy the ebook and start to create your own positive anchors for both you and your dogs.
Today I am grateful that I own a Mac since all PC users on the team can not access the hotel’s wireless internet:).
Not dipping to the well too often,