Stressing Dogs, Dancing Humans & Weirdly Inappropriate Reinforcement
Stress. It is a hot topic. At every seminar I teach someone will tell me about their “stressy” dog and how they (as the handler) will need to alter my instructions in order to deflect the stress of the environment away from this woeful creature.
Here is the thing. It is an incredibly difficult lesson but sooo important for us as dog owners and us as human beings to learn. I myself and still learning (with the human thing, I think I got the dog thing covered). More often then not, your actions may be the trigger to the dog’s stress.
Once at a Tony Robbins workshop a young woman (less than twenty) was tearfully sharing her trauma to the entire audience of having been raped 5 years earlier. She went to this workshop wanting to comitt suicide, Tony was her last hope before taking her own life. Tony was incredibly sympathetic about the rape and enraged by the rapist. But more than that he ended the pain for this young person once and for all with facts and a bit of rough love (the original kind:)). In the midst of her telling us all her sad story another young woman came sprinting down the ailse, put her arm around the rape victim and started stroking her hair and back, it was her sister. Here is where Tony went off. I mean he got really angry.
He quickly explained that there wasn’t a single cell in the rape victims body that was there at the time of the rape yet her mind allows her to stay trapped in the event. The pain was real, just as real as the event itself. Tony explained that the pain is real because it had been “anchored” into her blueprint by the reactions of the people who surrounded her. Any time she relived her pain she actually filled three of her four basic human needs; she got to feel; love & connection, significance and certainty from her support group. The act of touching a person during these painful journeys anchored the pain to the action. So that any time someone stroked her hair or lovingly embraced her, they evoked the condition reflex of the pain of the rape.
I saw this young lady 6 months after this event. She didn’t look like the same person. She was bright, laughing, carefree. She was pursuing a life working with children and hadn’t looked back since that night at Tony Robbins.
Fascinating stuff. But what has this got to do with dog training? Think of the human reaction to a dog that shows stress. As my good friend Rick DeAmelio likes to recite over and over “for every response there is a reaction, for every reaction there is a consequence . . . regardless if you like it or not, whether you are aware of it or not and whether you are in control of it or not! This chain is on going, it is inevitable.
Most stressing dogs have been trained by their owners to stress. Ouch, sorry, but it is true. Sure there very likely was an environmental stressor that initially caused the first “response” in this stressing dog but it was the owner’s roll “reacting“ that gave way to the chain and allowed “consequence” of greater stress to grow.
Most human’s heart breaks when their dogs’ stress. So they stroke the dog, they pick the dog up, the talk baby talk, they start jumping and dancing around to try and entertain the dog or if the dog has endured a stressor at the hands of another dog or person, they may start reacting (badly) towards that person or dog.
Once when DeCaff was very young, she came out of the ring and was jumped by a Border Collie. The BC grabbed her by the back of the neck. I pulled the dog off, handed it quickly over to it’s owner than immediately started playing a game of tug with DeCaff & her leash. To her it was just a new step in the reward process. We end our run, we get jumped, we tug. Response-reaction-consequence.
Maybe not what De-Dog had in mind, but the incident was forgotten quickly with no ill effects the next time we entered or exited the ring.
I will carry on with this hot topic in a blog post in the near future, in the mean time you will find a lot of solutions to your “stressing dog” within the “Building the Team Fundraising ebook” buy it now, while the price is still at the “introductory” low price.
Today I am grateful for osteopaths. Wow, did I get major relief from mine yesterday!