Green, Yellow, Red: What Zone Is Your Canine In?

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Zoom and Ireland Road Trippin!!

Zoom and Ireland Road Trippin!!

Part 1 of this mini series talked about how stimuli in our environment affect our canines mental state, how some variables can increase the level of anxiety and stress in our canines depending on their individual backgrounds, and how we can to begin to understand and work with these nuances in each of our furry companions. Part 2 then went into talking about the limits that each of our canines have, and how even when we are setting them up for success, and creating positive situations that each one of these interactions and moments is cumulative. As we build them up through appropriate interactions and training experiences, our canines are using up their “comfort/stress” fuel, and when this tank is empty, much like when we become over worked or over stressed, our mental “thinking” faculties begin to work inefficiently, that we and our canines are less likely to work through situations appropriately and can be more likely to default back to behaviours that we might be trying to stop or avoid simply because they are too tired to deal with the situation.

Part 3 is all about putting this all into action. Knowing what we now know, what is the best way to begin to tackle these “problem” areas of behaviour? Lets begin with another human analogy and an extreme version of counter-conditioning.

Thinking Like A Human:

Many humans are afraid of heights. For some, its any height, for others, its more extreme heights like standing on the top of a house or building. Now how would we be able to help any of them work through their fear?

At one time, a method called Flooding was used where a subject was subjected to a extremely high level of exposure to their known “fear” to the point they become numb to it. For some cases under extremely controlled environments, the process can work. However if even one aspect isn’t controlled for, it can have the reverse effect and even amplify the already existing issue. In the case of the person that is afraid of even a little height, a flooding example would be strapping a parachute on their back and having them skydive out of a plane. Sounds potentially traumatic doesn’t it? Imagine if they jumped with a trained instructor and they had their main chute fail and need to use the backup. Even though they landed safe, what effect do you think that added experience to an already intensely uncomfortable one would have? It is easy to see how the fear/uncertainty/unwillingness to engage in the future could be amplified by such a process.

Now picture the same person, extremely fearful of any height differences, being gradually built up to changes in elevation. Not only that, each small, and successful attempt is rewarded with praise and feelings of success?  Can steps backward happen in this scenario as well?  You bet!  That’s life! But each step forward is solidified through learning and each step back is smaller and as controlled as possible.

This is the progressive methodology we use at Canines By Design to help our clients achieve long lasting results and an understanding to work through any problem areas, whether it is desensitizing and counter-conditioning for canine related behaviours such as excitement, fear or aggression, or helping canines become more comfortable with particular environments, and even performing particular behaviours.

Canine Context:

Think of your canine a static object where the environment and the stimuli in that environment move around them. As your canine stands there, particular stimuli come and go, get closer, and then move further away. This applies to all stimuli. Smells come and go, sounds come and go, and visual cues come and go (albeit at different rates). Some of these stimuli are completely neutral, and are so for many reasons. One of the main reasons being that through previous exposure and learning experiences these stimuli offer no “outcome”, with those stimuli simply existing in the environment, and offering no “reward” or “punishment” outcome. But other stimuli are not so neutral. Positive outcomes (from their perspective) will drive the canine to perform the behaviour again, and negative experiences plus those that offer no outcome, can decrease the presentation of some behaviours and can also drive the canine to avoid or “control” those situations or stimuli.

In addition, depending on the severity of the previous encounter(s), this stress response can be immediate (think of our height phobia example in humans). For others, the stress response is more gradual, and as we get closer (or in the height example, as we get higher off the ground) this response grows until we cannot deal any longer. As these stimuli move closer to our canine, they begin to move through the zones of comfort. Check out the basic diagram below:

Zones of Comfort

The Zones Of Comfort:

If you and your dog area the black circle in the middle, you can see three distinct areas.

  • GREEN (outer ring): The green zone represents whatever distance is required from a certain stimuli for your canine to give it no attention at all. This is the “neutral” ring. At this distance your canine will go about listening to you and performing behaviours as you would expect and as you see in “safe” environments such as at home where they pay no attention to familiar stimuli around them. Think of this as your safe distance. Here you know you know you have your canines full attention and therefore have control of the situation. However, to train and work through behaviours we need our canine to be aware of the training stimuli/environment. For a young canine, or one that has led a sheltered life, the green zone may not be initially achievable in a new environment or one that offers high sensory stimulation. Make sure you are aware of this as you develop your bond and are getting out in your community together.
  • YELLOW (middle ring): As that stimuli moves closer to the center position it begins to transition from the green zone into the yellow zone. This zone, the “heightened awareness” zone, represents the distance from your canine from which the stimuli begins to illicit a response in our canine. They begin to look at the stimuli, body posturing may change, vocalization, leash manners, (there are many cues to engagement 🙂 ), and their resulting attention on you or the trainer may begin to change. OK, Time To Educate!!! This is the time to pull out all your redirection and set up for success techniques because your canine is now beginning to mentally engage with the stimuli, but is doing so at a distance where they still feel comfortable enough to listen to your redirection, continue to mentally engage with you, and learn from the situation.

It is important to remember though that we are also now depleting their “comfort/stress” fuel tank. Initially these tanks will empty more quickly when they are new to training and exposure (e.g. puppies or recent rescues) but their ranges will increase. You will know their tank is close to or empty when their attention and redirection skills are much less effective at a once effective distance (NOTE: this is very individual to every dog, and requires practice and time in different environments to see the small changes and cues, and understand how the relate to your canines internal state).

  • RED (inner ring): This zone is when the stimuli in your environment has moved close enough that your canine is focusing on it and you are “wrestling” to keep their attention. When we work with clients we treat this zone as the no go zone, but its not for the reason you may think. When stimuli enter into this zone, we as teachers will have an extremely tough time getting our students attention, having them focus on us, and learning “today’s lesson”. For some dogs this space is very close to them. Much like our personal space, and their issues lie when stimuli enter this. For other dogs, such as the example of a dog with a high prey drive, seeing a rabbit halfway across the soccer field might be close enough to be in their red zone, triggering previously learned behaviours (e.g. chase) versus listening to our redirection. As humans, we have a similar zone, that when things get to intense we can mentally “shut down” down, and rely on more basic “fight or flight” instincts. Some professions, such as Military, Police, Fire, and Rescue, train their employees specifically to be able to think in these tough situations (expand the range of their stress/comfort tank) and when its too tough for that, they have been conditioned through their training to still be able to perform their tasks. For the everyday canine caregiver though, we want to be able to comfortably go through our daily lives and make sure our set our canines up to feel the same way about things, so its learning in the yellow, avoiding the red!

A big concept to remember is that these distances or zones are fluid, and can change depending on the day, the particular environment, current health state of the canine, and also their energy levels and what kind of day they are having.  Knowing how stimuli have what kind of effect, at what distance, and when those stimuli transition from yellow to red takes a keen eye, patience, practice, and time to do it productively and safely.

Starting to think this way about your canine is an amazingly powerful tool and will help you view the world through their eyes. You will be able to quickly deduce “problem” areas anJeterd help avoid unnecessary confrontation while building both your canine and yourself up to certain situations at a safe and comfortable pace while you are out in your community! So now you are asking where can we help? Practicing the timing and learning to understand the cues in our environment and how they affect our canines takes time. Our motor skills and timing is just as important in the equation for success as our canines timing and skill sets. Let Canines By Design show you the way!

The Canine “Comfort/Stress” Fuel Tank: What Is Your Canine’s Range?

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Let’s dive a little deeper into your canine’s “Zone of Comfort.” Last week, we introduced the idea that your canine’s level of comfort is constantly being adjusted when things like their environment change or as they approach new, exciting (and even familiar) stimuli. We also talked about how we as caregivers need to account for this adjustment as part of how we create a successful, positive, and educational experience for our dogs. This week, we are going to talk about exposure limits to stress, and how stress affects our canines and their behaviour.

Let’s start with a human analogy: For some of the human population, entering a really busy mall or crowded street can be frightening, even debilitating. Heart rate rises, palms get sweaty, we get a little on edge, and it can even get to the point that we take ourselves out of that situation. But for others, going to a busy Sunday farmer’s market sounds like a perfect morning!

Next, think about one of those “unnerving” things in your life. How long could you be in the same room or in a closed situation with that “thing”? For some, about two seconds is enough before they want out! For others, with controlled practice, desensitization, and positive reinforcement, we can extend that time. In a sense, we have a “comfort/stress” fuel tank, and the more uncomfortable something makes us, the faster we use the tank up! Once our fuel is used up, we do not have an ability to deal with the situation we are in (or with that particular item(s) in the environment). Often, stressed emotion starts to overpower our thoughts. Military, police and related groups specifically train their members to increase their ability to handle severe and stressful situations (increase the range of their tank) so that they are still able to use their cognitive processes and training when it really counts!

The same stress scenarios regularly affect our canines. For some, specific stimuli can create real feelings of unrest, and if severe enough, they can elicit behaviours in our canines that we may have never seen before. In fact, we may only see them in that exact scenario! As we work with, and bond with, our canines, we begin to understand their likes and dislikes, where they feel comfortable – and where they do not.

If we are working through certain behaviours and are developing a desensitization program to a particular stimuli or behaviour, or simply working on socialization and general environmental exposure, keeping in mind the idea that our canines can only handle some situations, stimuli, environments, and their combinations, for a certain period of time becomes hugely powerful.

What it means for us as caregivers is that, alongside the bonding and discovery process, we need to also recognize the small signs and changes that show us that our canine’s “comfort/stress” tank is being used up. Most importantly, we should be in tune to the moment when it is getting close to being emptied. When this happens, just like in the human world, our canines will be more prone to reacting to situations versus thinking them through.  In some cases, A tired dog might be a happy dog, but like tired/distracted humans, mistakes in judgement and reaction can be made by these tired minds.  What we do with the “zones of comfort” at Canines By Design is work within a canine’s comfort boundaries (dictated by their behaviour to a particular environment or specific stimuli) and slowly build up their ability to handle the scenario, understand that the scenario is safe, and build the trust up between canine and caregiver. We want them to feel comfortable walking in their own paws, and it is about giving the caregiver and the canine the tools to do so in a positive way!

Next week is part three of the “Zones of Comfort” feature in which I’ll discuss the three colours we use, how they are used, and how they can supercharge your canine’s education in a safe and positive way!

Zones Of Comfort: Finding Canine Comfort in Uncomfortable Situations

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An ever popular topic here at Canines By Design, this week we bring up “zones of comfort”, what it means, how it affects your canine and how you can use it to help your canine through stressful situations.

Are you asking yourself “what does that mean?”… or “isn’t that some prop from Get Smart!?”.  Well, we aren’t talking about a Hollywood TV prop, but, like the safe learning space that the (awesome) “cone of silence” was designed to create, building a comfort zone means working with the environment around us to create a positive and, most importantly, educational, experience. And unlike Maxwell Smart’s device, I’ve found a much simpler approach that actually works to achieve the desired outcome!

We all have zones of comfort.  These imaginary force fields around us help dictate our level of ease in social situations, strange environments and when we test new experiences.  Depending on the individual, these zones will vary depending on previous exposure, comfort level, etc. and it is critical to take all factors into account.

Let’s use an example:  Since I work with dogs, sitting on the floor in the middle of 10 full grown canines playing together doesn’t evoke feelings of stress or fear. However, for someone who isn’t used to large dog fests, or only interacted with guard dogs, their perspective on the situation will be totally different.  For someone fearful of canines, such a situation could be so overwhelming that they might shut-down and glean nothing positive from the experience or not even be able to remove themselves from the environment because they are so overwhelmed.  Some dog trainers like to call this “the red zone.”  For the human analogy, we can say this person has started the “flight-or-fight” response.  This response, also known as the acute stress response, is when the sympathetic nervous system responds to the physical or the strong emotional state that has been presented to the body, coordinating various bodily functions (adrenal gland secretion, pupil dilation, increase heart rate, etc.) in order to create the optimum situation for that individual’s survival (1).

Now imagine the situation where we are beginning to expose a newly adopted canine to various environmental factors.  Maybe that dog had spent its first year locked in a backyard, without environmental enrichment.  Maybe that backyard didn’t even have grass or any trees. Now, when we take that pup out and begin to work through different training scenarios, the environment can become very overwhelming, very quickly.  For this particular example, the canine will enter the “red zone” fast – inhibiting their response to our training programs and damaging their overall personal growth.  Part of my graduate thesis examined this phenomenon, and many examples arose in which increased levels of stress (in particular example it was related to training methodology) directly resulted in a decrease in working ability of canines trained for service (2,3,4).

It is therefore very important as caregivers that we keep our canines’ “zone of comfort” in mind when we are out training and setting out educational experiences for success.  Here are some easy ways to keep this in mind while we are out and about:

One to avoid...

In the “Red” Zone

  1. Keep your dog’s history in mind!
  • If they have had previous negative experiences with something in the environment, their zone for this object/person/dog will be less secure.
  1. Slow and Steady!
  • Fear can be incredibly powerful and debilitating.  We cannot learn when we are in fear for our lives or someone’s well being.  The same goes for canines. Flooding canines emotionally is a very dangerous practice.  Working within what the canine is comfortable with, as slow as it may be, will allow you and your canine to gradually build confidence with that once-scary scenario, and also help you both build a stronger, trusting bond.
  1. Keep it Fun!
  • We always strive to make every situation and experience for canine and caregiver as positive and rewarding as possible.  Success gives everyone a good feeling, and those positive feelings go a long way to help overcome hurdles we encounter and give us further motivation to keep going.

Canines By Design is here for you!  Contact us today to see how our customized approach can help you and your canine work together and create success everyone can see!

1. TheFreeDictionary.com (Medical Dictionary) (2015).  Fight-or-Flight Reaction Definition.  Retrieved from: http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/fight-or-flight+reaction.  Accessed on: July 22. 2015.

2. Hilby, E.F., Rooney, N.J., & Bradshaw, J.W.S. (2004).  Dog training methods: their use, effectiveness and interaction with behavior and welfare.  Anim. Welfare, 13: 63-69.

3. Haverbeke, A., Laporte, B., Depiereux, E., Giffroy, J.M., & Diederich, C. (2008). Training methods of military dog handlers and their effects on the team’s performance.  Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci., 113: 110-122.

4. Haverbeke, A., Messaoudi, F., Depiereux, E., Stevens, M., Giffroy, J.M, & Diederich, C. (2010).  Efficiency of working dogs undergoing a new human familiarization and training program.  J. Vet. Behav., 5: 112-119.

My… what big teeth you have!! National Dog Bite Prevention Week

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girl and puppy     This week (May 17-23rd, 2015) is National Dog Bite Prevention Week; a week created to educate people on canine behaviour, how to interact with them, and as awful as it sounds… how to teach people not to get bit.

Does that seem crazy to you? I’ve heard it said that all it takes is common sense to avoid being bitten, but what really is common sense? We all have different backgrounds, experiences, and outlooks and these shape how we go about our daily lives and consider “Normal” or “Not”. And beyond all this… accidents do happen. Here are a few facts from the American Veterinary Medical Association that they post in regards to NDBPW:

1. 4.7 million people in this country are bitten by dogs every year.

2. Children are by far the most common victims.

3. 800,000 Americans receive medical attention for dog bites each year.

4. Children are far more likely to be severely injured; approximately 400,000 receive medical attention every year.

5. Most dog bites affecting young children occur during everyday activities and while interacting with familiar dogs.

6. Senior citizens are the second most common dog bite victims.

The Montreal SPCA has even created a website, www.dogsandkids.ca to help facilitate the education process and to help understand some of the very very basics that is canine behaviour and areas to focus initial teachings with your children.

For trainers, caregivers, puppy and adult raisers, foster homes, shelter systems, private, and public facilities, these reported numbers are alarming! How can this be? Well we aren’t hear to place blame, point the finger, or create an example out ofbaby and dog anyone. The fact is, is that these statistics are partly a result of how we as a majority “HAD” educated ourselves and interacted with canines, assumptions we had potentially made about their physiology and psychology, and it isn’t because of how many of us currently “ARE” working with canines.

For me as an advocate for canine-related education, caregiver training and the creation of a bond based over mutual respect and understanding, doing what we do, and educating as many as we can is the most important part of our jobs! Unfortunately, accidents happen. But education is power, and spreading what we now know about canine behaviour and physiology through formal education (Bachelors and Master’s Degrees in Dog behaviour, Veterinarian), and the service dogs industry, will only help our society and local communities embrace, understand, and further integrate canines successfully, while decreasing ugly bite statistics that in a large part can be avoided with a little foresight and education! And anyone can do it! Just getting out, putting your best foot forward, and setting theory into motion shows everyone around you that it is possible, and that there is this new way to listen and interact with dogs!

So for all of you, EVERYONE, that gets out, puts a smile on, helps educate those around them by socializing, educating and working with their canine and people around them (even the very basic and small things), THANK YOU! From the bottom of my heart. You are all leaders, teaching by example, educating the “young” to the “not so young”!!! Keep it up!!

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The Quick Fix: Should You and Your Canine Be Skeptical?

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canine jump!Being together, training together, playing together, smiling together. Canine Companionship…. It’s the life!! But occasionally, funny little things happen and certain behaviours can arise that become disruptive (in a “nails on a chalkboard” sort of way) during our special time with our canines.

Sometimes this behaviour starts off cute, but then veers toward the dangerous or destructive, and we might find ourselves in a state of confusion, anger panic, sadness, or helplessness… Our human nature takes over, and we rush to our nearest source of information (WebMD, anyone?) and attempt to label, define, and understand what is going on. It’s perfectly logical that we would want to know why our dog is doing said behaviour, especially if we aren’t confident in the appropriateness or safety of it all.

And, in a way, this attention to the situation is good! Canines are not mindless automatons without feelings or personalities. They are dynamic – and their resulting behaviours are not automatic responses to environmental cues. But what isn’t helpful when you are concerned is all the BAD information that is out there. There are pages and pages of misleading, wrong, and downright dangerous advice out there!

Have you ever watched one of those “As Seen on TV” adverts and said “Ya right….” Or “if only it actually did that or worked…” – maybe we would all have 6-pack abs and amazing golf swings. The reality is, the majority of these products don’t work, or they only work as a small portion of a larger plan.

Canines and their behaviours are dynamic, and the causes for their actions are as equally dynamic, with environmental and internal factors contributing to the “whole” behaviour. And yet there are umpteen people and products out there offering the quick fix. “Try this and your dog’s barking will be solved first try,” or “this collar will get your dog walking right.” The reality is, good behaviours take time to mold and fine-tune and bad behaviours take time to correct – because your canine needs time to learn what is right! Quick fixes attempt to treat the “visible” behaviours and in doing so can cause other inappropriate behaviours to arise, can harm the welfare of the animal, and can actually have no effect at all (except on your wallet).

So be aware of those “quick fix” promises! (But don’t feel hopeless!) This is the part of the change we are seeing in the Pet Industry, specifically the canine world. I, like my student cohort from Bergin University, are some of the first academic minds to have their post secondary and graduate education focus entirely on canines, understanding their history, development, physiology and psychology. We are being trained to treat the underlying emotions and behaviours that result in the “visible” behaviour and it is from this new wave of academic focus that we will move away from the “quick fix” concept to creating useable and successful programs that work, while putting the needs of the canine at the forefront.

Redirection and Canine Attention: Putting It Together!

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Zoom waiting for whats next!  @caninesbydesignOne of my favorites, if not THE favorite training tool I love to use when working with, and educating canines and their caregivers, is the power of redirection. Redirection can be defined here as moving our canines attention from one object, thing, or stimuli in the environment to another another in a deliberate fashion to help them succeed at a particular task or in a particular situation.  This can help decrease tension felt in certain situations, help maintain order when multiple dogs are around, and offer a fantastically positive way to keep your canine engaged with you when working with them in stimulating environments or in new situations when distractions are everywhere.  But why use redirection?  Why not other techniques we may have seen on TV or read in a book?  I already gave you the hint, and it is the link between positive experiences and redirection, but lets look a little bit a where redirection fits into the realm of psychology and that might help explain it!

It’s common in modern training circles to hear about Operant Conditioning, including the four quadrants of operant conditioning and how they apply to modifying, changing and creating canine behaviours. I hope I haven’t lost you yet… if you stick with me as I break down the concept, I promise it will be the best move you ever make in your relationship with your dog.

Psychology (and Parenting) 101

Operant conditioning is a keystone concept in psychology. It is brain/psychologyone of the fundamental topics taught to university students attending classes ranging from introductory to clinical psychology, and is also being taught to new puppy parents at their first training session. Founded by Burrhus Frederic (B.F.) Skinner, his approach was to understand behaviour by looking at the causes of an action and their consequences. The basis to his findings was that behaviour that was rewarded after it was completed would be more likely to occur again. Behaviours that were not reinforced would become weakened and eventually removed (or extinguished) from one’s behavioural repertoire. In other words, a positive outcome leads to increase of rewarded behavior, and an outcome in which the desired result was not achieved, leads to decrease of behavior.

Skinner focused on reinforcement and punishment, which are the outcomes of behaviours that are likely to affect their occurrence later, and created four quadrants of these outcomes: Positive and Negative Reinforcement and Positive and Negative Punishment. To keep things relatively simple here, we will condense the four quadrants into two: (1) Reinforcement, which leads to an increase in a behaviour and (2) Punishment, which leads to a decrease in a behaviour in the future.

Reward and punishment are terms that we have experienced in our own upbringing. Did you receive a “favorite dessert” for cleaning your room? Your parents were practicing operant conditioning. Specifically, a type of reinforcement in which something positive is added (dessert) to increase the chances that a behaviour (cleaning your room) will happen next time.

dog treats reward

Turn a Negative Into a Positive

Quiz time: What part of Skinner’s theory seems out of place with what I’ve been writing about these past few weeks? Your answer should be along the lines of… “I thought we were to always keep things as positive as possible and nurture our bond with our canine?” and “wouldn’t that mean the punishment quadrant shouldn’t even be there?” Well, you would be correct!

We will all encounter situations where our furry friends are misbehaving, putting themselves in dangerous places, or doing something wrong. This is where I would like to introduce you to a very powerful word, and way of thinking: Redirection.

Redirect is defined as “to change the direction or focus of” (Dictionary.com, 2014). As a fundamental focus at Canines By Design, I propose that we replace the word “correction” with the word “redirect,” removing negative interactions with our dogs (such as scolding them or physically correcting them with a leash) when addressing their behaviours.

It’s Not as Hard as You Think…

You are going for a walk with your canine and working on heeling and keeping slack in your leash. One block up, your neighbour turns the corner and continues up the same route in front of you. Now all your dog wants to do is pull out in front to hurry up and go say hi to their friend. Old school (and outdated) technique would tell us to use physical touch to correct them, using a butt-tap or backward force on the leash. What you are doing here is correcting their behavior by adding something negative (collar correction) for pulling ahead. Instead of adding negativity to the situation, add redirection instead.

Redirection would be to use a command or behavioural response currently in the canine’s repertoire to change their leash pulling into a proper on-leash heel. For myself and Zoom, I could say “touch,” which is his cue to turn to me and touch my open palm with his nose, or “look at me,” which is his cue to make eye contact with me. In either case, the situation has been turned from a negative one where your canine isn’t listening or walking nicely with you, to a positive one for both. Zoom would stop pulling (which makes me happy) by performing a command (which makes him happy because he gets praise for doing something right).

The Future of Training

Using redirection instead of negative corrective techniques requires patience and practice. However, keeping it positive, calm, and working progressively through these situations without negative influences (caused by adding punishment) will only help to strengthen the bond between caregiver and canine, and promote a very healthy working relationship.

I would love to hear about your experiences using redirection and positive reinforcement in your training journey. If you would like more information on positive training methodology and how redirection can change how you interact with your canine, I would be happy to start that discussion with you.

#caninesbydesign http://www.caninesbydesign.ca

Zoom

References:

Dictionary.com (2014). “Redirect”. Retrieved from: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/redirect. Accessed on: April 1, 2015.

Don’t Forget to check out the other Canines By Design blog posts such as T.A.P for a better relationship https://caninesbydesign.wordpress.com/2014/03/18/t-a-p-a-better-relationship/, and Proofing, https://caninesbydesign.wordpress.com/2014/03/18/proofing-what-is-proofing-and-what-to-proof/.  Canines By Design helping canine communities succeed!

Consistency Matters: 3 Areas That Will Improve In Your Canine Relationship

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Consistency At Dinner Time Helps Create Good Dinner-Time Manners

Consistency At Feeding Time Helps Create Good Dinner-Time Manners

Professionals do not become “Pro’s” overnight. Doctors do not become doctors on a hope and a dream, NHL All-Stars do not achieve greatness by sitting on the couch, and people dedicated to a deep understanding of canine behaviour don’t just wake up one day with the ability to speak “animal.” Such individuals work diligently and train mentally and physically to create the basic skill set required to master their area of expertise. Consistent effort and practice of the fundamentals are important exercises that help all types of professionals excel and reach the top!

That word, consistency, pops up quite a bit. Consistency can be defined as the “steadfast adherence to the same principles, course, form, etc.” (Dictionary.com, 2014). In the canine world, we talk about consistency of technique, timing, methodology, reward, punishment, routine, etc. but we don’t necessarily say why we want to be consistent. Well consistency, or being dependable with action and response, in all aspects of your relationship with your canine can have a profoundly positive impact!

All relationships are built on the basics of communication. Consistency, or acting in a consistent way as you instruct, praise, correct and go about navigating the world around you, will greatly help canines understand your requests and current emotional state. Consistency can give them clues on how to respond or prepare to respond. Being consistent will help our canines through:

Practice Practice Practice.  Zoom Helping Unload his favorite groceries

Practice Practice Practice. Zoom Helping Unload his favorite groceries

Reliability: Instructing, praising, redirecting and timing are the cornerstones to educating your canine in both an effective and efficient way during training sessions and new encounters. By structuring your training sessions and creating a plan to achieve new goals, we can control our learning sessions more effectively and add to our ability to remain consistent throughout the process.   By doing so, we are actually able to increase the reliability our canine’s behaviour across different situations and scenarios as they come up in our day-to-day lives.

Faster learning/sharper learning curve: Adding a level of consistency to our interactions with our canines will help them understand what is being asked of them regardless of the situation. If your dog has gone through a learning process where the actions and results are the same every time, the connection between cause and effect quickly becomes quite clear for them…. If this happens, and I act this way, this outcome (e.g. praise) will occur. If the outcome to their response varies in each “trial” or occurrence, then the connection becomes muddled and it will take longer to learn the right behaviour, as well as the possibility of learning the wrong behaviour can also arise. This is a basic fundamental of behavioural conditioning (both in a classical and operant sense) but isn’t necessarily thought of in a “practical application” sort of way when we are out in the world with our canines.

Emotional Understanding: Along with increased reliability of behaviour and ability for faster learning, working on the consistency within us will help our canines understand our emotional state. If we react to the same situations in a similar fashion each time, our emotional response remains consistent and our canines will begin to learn what we are/are not comfortable with. They can then begin to predict how we will react, thus speeding up their response to various situations and furthering the development of the human-canine bond. Don’t believe me? An article just released at the end of November shows canines demonstrating an understanding of subtle changes in human communication such as emotional tone, intonation and volume changes. Read more on how dogs do understand their master’s voice.

Adding consistency to our interactions with our canines requires practice. After a training session or new encounter/situation has come up, take an introspective moment to assess what went on, how your canine behaved, and most importantly, how you behaved and responded (acted). You may quickly find a key… possibly why the scenario worked out perfectly, and maybe why it could have gone better and how you can facilitate that the next time!

Need help with your consistency? Like a personal trainer for physical fitness, a large part of my work is assessing the areas of your canine relationship that could use more consistent effort. I design and chart training sessions and goals that you and your dog can follow and achieve together!

References:

Dictionary.com (2014). Consistency Definition. Retrieved from: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/consistency. Accessed on: December 9th, 2014.

TheeAmigos

Minimizing Canine Anxiety: Steps to Take and Products to Try

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This room need's a "Safe Space" for this pup

This room need’s a “Safe Space” for this pup

In an ideal world, canines would be raised in positive, enriched environments that are free from fear and punishment, where their interactions within the community (both canine and human) are constructive and educational. Free from negativity, their potentials could all be met, allowing them to lead dynamic and integrated lives.

The world is… imperfect. As hard as we try, things happen. Sometimes on a grand scale, such as being involved in a car accident and developing a deep seeded fear of vehicles and travel, or being born into hostile situations where every food scrap is closely guarded for fear of not eating again. Things can happen on a smaller scale too. Sometimes, we have to shift our schedules because of a new job, or because we are moving to a new location. These changes disrupt what was once a familiar day, and can cause anxiety in ourselves and those around us. Same is true for our dogs.

Where the Two Roads Diverge

Where the Two Roads Diverge

Negative encounters, swings in schedules, new additions to the family, and changes within the home structure can all be a cause for anxiety in canines. At Canines By Design, we often talk about setting our canines up for success, proofing, and regular, dynamic socializing as being corner stones to creating a well balanced dog. If our canines can lead dynamic lives, enjoying new experiences, meeting new people, and going to new places, we are in a sense setting them up for success by creating an environment in which “change” and “new” becomes a regular part of life and their vocabulary, and not something to be fearful of.

But as I said, even in these situations, things can happen, fears can be created, and anxiety can be seen and felt. So what can be done?

... Well It Looks Comfy For Him Still!

… Well It Looks Comfy For Him Still!

Lets use the example of separation anxiety in canines. Separation anxiety is when the act of us leaving our canine causes a stress response in them, which can be acted out in a variety of behaviours such as soiling in the house, property destruction, self mutilation, pacing, excessive barking, etc. Regardless of how the behaviour arose, separation anxiety causes unrest in our dog’s lives and in turn causes the same unrest in our own lives. We will worry about what they are doing, maybe their behaviours have become destructive, and we will worry about what is being destroyed or if they have eaten something they shouldn’t have and if they should go into the veterinarian.

Sound familiar? We all want our canines to feel safe “in their own skin”. As caregivers and there are a few things we can do to help decrease the stress involved when canines have to spend some time on their own and suffer from separation anxiety:

  1. First and foremost, separation anxiety is treatable with patience and regular work to address the problem areas. Using customized desensitization programs (something we do here at Canines By Design), a program can be developed for your specific case that will take you and your canine through small incremental changes that help bolster understanding and comfort, rather than shock and fear.
  2. Create a safe space for your canine. This, along with environmental enrichment, is a specialty of Canines By Design. Whether it is in the office space at work, or your house (inside or out), or even in the car, it is important that we make sure that if they do have to spend time alone, we create an environment that they cannot get hurt, especially if their anxiety overwhelms their “common sense”. Items like power cords, plugins, chewable items like buckles, and even what is on the counter are all part of the considerations we take into account when setting up your “safe space”.
  3. Utilize your friends and family around you to help take the anxiety off of you and your canine. Puppy play-dates, good doggy day cares, and house sitters are all ways to keep your mind at ease, and make sure your pup is out having good experiences and leading dynamic lives. While this doesn’t address the separation anxiety directly, it gives you a way to avoid the behaviours that can be harmful to their health (mental and physical) while you work through your desensitization program.
  4. Make sure their needs are met before they spend some time alone. If they have just had a wonderful play with their best friend at the local park, and they are good and tired, they will be less likely to act out of boredom and stress, and be more likely to sleep and relax. Physical release such as exercise has a wonderful cascading effect on our physiology, releasing positive endorphins that make us, and our dogs feel good.
  5. Leave music or the T.V. on for them. Silent rooms cause our senses to become heightened and hyper vigilant. Same for our canines, and their senses such as hearing are already many fold stronger than our own. Utilizing the T.V. or radio (easy listening music) helps to dull them. You can even use a fan as the white noise will interrupt the noises they may hear outside their homes (whether it’s a house or apartment) and help them relax and worry less about what is going on. Need a portable solution? Load up your smart phone with your canine’s favorite tunes and play it off the speaker.
  6. Another sense to think about is smell. A great product line called Adaptil has focused on this, where they use products that mimic the pheromones released by a nursing mother. While pheromones don’t exactly have a “smell”, they act on a deep level, and the pheromones released by a nursing mother act to calm and ease anxious puppies. Their product lines are geared for canines of all ages, and from my experience have been very successful in helping ease many different types of anxiety including separation anxiety.
  7. Canines are social animals. They like to be around their piers, whether it is other dogs or humans. For some, separation anxiety stems from the lack of comfort that comes from being touched or snuggled in with their favorite person or playmate. Anxiety vests were created to help ease these cases. One brand, Thundershirts, are probably the original, and these snug fitting vests were created to give the wearer the feeling of being constantly hugged and touched.  Check out their sizing information for a size that works for your canine.
Ellie Having a Stress Free Moment

Ellie Having a Stress Free Moment

Anxiety related behaviours including separation anxiety are treatable. They require patience, positivity, and diligence to work through, but with the right tools and desensitization program, all canines can feel comfortable in their own skin and anxiety related behaviours CAN be drastically reduced if not completely cured. Not sure if your dog suffers from anxiety? Check out this blog on anxiety symptoms for more information.

Canine Intelligence: How Our Understanding Continues To Grow

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Making Light Work of a Heavy Snack

Making Light Work of a Heavy Snack

I was going to write an article this week about canine intelligence, but I quickly ran into a conundrum… they are intelligent in so many ways, I’m going to have to write a book, not a blog post!!!

Canine intelligence and what it means, stands for, and how it is represented is a hot topic these days. For a long time, we didn’t look at canines as intelligent, but rather we thought they were gifted with their nose, and something that we can train and mold to complete tasks.  Those tasks may have been something we didn’t want to do ourselves, or that we found canines could actually do more efficiently. While there are some magnificent examples of highly trained human trackers, a bloodhound’s nose is hard to beat.

But the tables have turned. Societal shifts have opened our eyes to explore our world through a different lens. We are more empathetic towards animals, their needs, and have turned our perspectives from being “master’s of the universe” to welfare minded “caretakers” (…this may be a generalization as there are still far too many people who either ignore or refuse to believe this, but that is a topic for another blog). We have begun to explore the possibilities not by what they can do for us, but rather what we can simply learn from them by taking a step back and looking at the world through their eyes.

We have come to understand that not all animals, especially dogs, are created equal. There is an unexplored intelligence that we are just beginning to uncover and attempt to understand. While being humans, we are still confined to understanding intelligence by how we have defined it, we are still uncovering many aspects of canine life that we once thought was completely untrue, or impossible.

I thought an easy way to share some of the ways that canines are amazing us, and showing just how intelligent they are, would be to group these concepts into areas we as humans tend to think about intelligence, and share some amazing links to some stories to demonstrate these areas.

Nose Work

Nose Work

Scent (nose) Intelligence:

This has been linked with canines for a long, long time. Helping on hunts, detecting predators lurking just outside our camps, canine olfaction has always been considered one of their strong suites. Imagine telling someone 30 years ago that scientific research would be able to show that they are actually so intelligent in this way, that they could in fact act as more reliable early warning detection systems for particular cancers than some of our best “man-made” medical equipment. Don’t believe me? Check out these links:

http://www.dogsdetectcancer.org/

http://www.degruyter.com/view/j/nbec.2014.13.issue-1/nbec-2014-0003/nbec-2014-0003.xml (sorry, you can only access the abstract without purchase).

Google Search: Canine Cancer Detection, or Google Scholar: Canine VOC detection and then pick “since 2014” for the newest articles.

Verbal Intelligence:

Immediately one thinks “dogs don’t speak words, so how can they have a verbal intelligence!?”. Well canines bark, and these barks do mean something. Canines also have a very important, and complex body language that they use to “silently” speak to one another. They can ALSO read our body language and what we are doing and interacting with! Furthermore, canines are great listeners (OK, most of the time :)), and have an incredible ability to understand human language… now imagine living in a world where this is going on all the time!! That is some serious thinking power!

Vocabulary:

Chaser the Border collie has the same understanding of vocabulary as a three-year-old child:

http://www.amazon.ca/Chaser-Unlocking-Genius-Knows-Thousand/dp/0544102576

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hi8HFdPMsiM

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-smartest-dog-in-the-world/

Body Language:

https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/virtual-pet-behaviorist/dog-behavior/canine-body-language

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0035437

Auditory:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/canine-corner/201211/how-dogs-bark-in-different-languages (a neat article in how dogs bark in different language courtesy of one of my Master’s Degree Professors, Stanley Coren)

What Did You Say!!?

What Did You Say!!?

Visual Intelligence:

People used to think of dogs as completely colour blind, but this is not true. We learnt at Bergin University that canines are dichromatic, not trichromatic, so to say they are colour blind is a misnomer. Canines can see colours in the environment; they just see them slightly differently than we do. Stan Coren writes:

“Instead of seeing the rainbow as violet, blue, blue-green, green, yellow, orange and red, dogs would see it as dark blue, light blue, gray, light yellow, darker yellow (sort of brown), and very dark gray. In other words, dogs see the colors of the world as basically yellow, blue and gray. They see the colors green, yellow and orange as yellowish, and they see violet and blue as blue. Blue-green is seen as a gray”. Reference: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/canine-corner/200810/can-dogs-see-colors).

One thing that Bergin University is demonstrating is that canines are capable of a form of reading. While not scientifically demonstrated how this occurs this video will get your grey cells working trying to figure out how they can look at a cue card and understand what it means without any auditory reinforcement by the trainer in the later stages of their training! AMAZING!! (I LOVE MY SCHOOL!)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Egvz_dZ1qv4 (this is an older video… facility has changed (now for three years).

Physical Intelligence:

While I alluded to canine’s inability to open jars earlier (not having opposable thumbs will do that), they do have an amazing ability when it comes to their physicality and using it in intelligent ways. Anyone (like myself) who has worked within Service Dog organizations can certainly attest to this. The ways that they are able to help out it truly amazing!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-WrDMxw_mY – Turning on a light switch (Sae can sure raise her voice up high!! What Excitement!! All students at Bergin work with canines training for full service certification).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NbFISCnTQgc -learning to pull a wheel chair at Bergin’s new facility.

http://vimeo.com/52965741 -Zoom Learning to recycle bottles (this was early on in my Master’s Program). We are required to teach our own dogs a higher-level job by shaping and linking smaller instructions together.

With all this said, I must also put in a disclaimer. These changes to our mindsets have gotten us excited, and the media excited, to seek out and find out more about canine intelligence. It is important that we continue forward with an open mind, but also be careful not to jump to any conclusions before we are able to match our gut feelings with rigorous studies that either approve or disprove particular theories and ideas. This isn’t to say that these intelligences we witness don’t exist, we just need to put our thinking caps on to determine how we can accurately measure and record. Our canines are truly amazing. They offer emotional and physical support, they can help us live longer, and they always seem to bring a smile to our faces. I am a firm believer that we are just beginning to truly understand our canines, so next time you are looking into your dogs eyes wondering what they are thinking, just know, they are looking right back at you, and might be wondering the same thing. -J

Nose to Tail: Be Prepared for a Canine Sleepover

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Zoom and Ireland Road Trippin!!

Zoom and Ireland Road Trippin!!

Are you hosting a canine sleepover party? Maybe you are helping out family or friends by taking care of their dog while they travel or head for a much-needed vacation? There are always a lot of considerations to think about when leave our canine in someone else’s care or do the same for them so I thought I would compile a few checklists of things to remember to help make preparations easier!

Short-Term Stay (e.g. one day):

  1. Enough food for the meals of the day.

NOTE: If your canine is on a special diet, prepare all the components before hand and write up some feeding instructions. Also bring their treats along if they have a sensitive stomach.

  1. Leash, Harness, and Collar (Make sure their ID and contact info is up to date!)
  2. Any medications needed for the day. Ensure instructions for proper timing/dosage.
  3. Let your “puppy-sitter” know about any specific behavioural things your canine may do throughout the day that is unique to them and also make sure you give your contact information (and a backup!) in case anything unforeseeable comes up.
  4. Before they leave on their adventure, take a moment to snap a photo close up of their face as also a full body shot in case anything happens and they bolt from your puppy sitter.

Long-Term (e.g. one week):

  1. Enough food for everyday that you are gone for. I like to leave a little extra (a couple extra meals worth) in case travel plans change.

NOTE: If your canine is on a special diet, prepare all the components before hand and write up some feeding instructions. Also bring their treats along if they have a sensitive stomach.

  1. Any medications needed for the day. Ensure instructions for proper timing/dosage.
  2. Leash, Harness, and Collar (Make sure their ID and contact info is up to date!!)… add an extra tag for the time you are away that has your puppy sitter’s information on it (name, address, e-mail, phone number) as this will speed up the pup being returned if he/she decides to go on a walk-about.
  3. Provide your sitter with a copy of your canine’s vet records (digital or paper) and give their veterinarians information (name, contact info, address, phone number) along with the details in case a medical emergency arises. If they cannot make it to your regular veterinarian, having the copy will give any veterinarian the background information they will need to answer any questions.

NOTE: Agree beforehand what the protocol will be if a medical emergency arises (how costs will be covered, how the caregivers will be contacted, etc.). Having this planned will make an unplanned stressful time much more manageable.

  1. If you have the time, go out with your puppy sitter for a walk or two, and maybe even a play, so that they can get comfortable with your canine’s behaviours and have the opportunity to ask any questions.

NOTE: This is a great time to go through their command list so the sitter knows how to ask the canine to perform a particular instruction (include this list as a part of your write-up!)…. Imagine not knowing the instruction that the pup waits for to pee!

  1. Write up a “day in the life of _____” so that the puppy sitter knows what your dog gets for activity on a regular basis. By sticking as close to their regular activity levels and schedules, the canine will be less likely to “act out” or develop new, and not necessarily productive, behaviours. It will also inform the sitter of any special things they may need to do (e.g. ear cleaning solution/wipes after a swim day) that they don’t necessarily perform on their own canines.
  2. Provide your destination contact information for your puppy sitter so that they can call or contact you even if their cell phones aren’t working, or they are busy visiting a family event. It might not be the best time, but emergencies never happen when the timing is “good.”.
  3. Before they leave on their adventure, take a moment to snap a photo close up of their face as also a full body shot in case anything happens and they bolt from your puppy sitter.

If your pup is prone to anxiety, then a great extra to bring along is a familiar smelling blanket or towel (something they sleep with) so that they can have some familiar smells around them when you are away and can help decrease stress caused by the new environment. If you don’t have a towel or blanket, then sleep in a old t-shit for a couple of nights and pack that along and it will help both with short and long-term stays!

I have also attached a checklist in .PDF file that can be opened with any .PDF reader to help make your trip easier.  Click the link below, download, print it off, share it with friends!!  And don’t forget, enjoy your trip!!

Canines By Design Sleepover,Vacation Checklist