Wednesday, January 19, 2011

In Which I Ramble Like an Idiot . . .

 . . . because that is how I feel regarding this relaxation stuff. I think my frustration is primarily due to two questions I have, the answers to which seem fundamental to my understanding of this concept:

1. What is relaxation?

2. When should my dog be doing it?

I have been thinking a lot about Jun's behavior as it pertains to relaxation in the past few days. What is she doing and when is she doing it? When we are playing fetch, she is very much "on" and very intense, but happy I think, mouth open in a smile and tongue hanging out, but eyes wide and body tense and ready. When we are training she goes back and forth between the same "intense/happy" mood I see while playing outside and a more stressed mode. When she gets it and is having fun with the game, her face is relaxed but intense. When she is not sure what I want she displays stress behavior--lip licking, yawning, licking my face, pacing in circles, scratching herself.

When I'm not directly interacting with her, her behavior varies. She is clingy a lot of the time. She likes to be touching me in some way. The time she is most likely to lie down on her side and just sit there doing nothing, maybe close her eyes (and this is what I think of when I think relaxation) is when I'm standing up and/or walking around the house doing something. Cooking, cleaning, getting ready for work or ready for bed etc. Sometimes she will be glued to me but other times she will lie down nearby and do what I think of as relaxing. My guess is her behavior at these times will depend on how much exercise and mental stimulation she has gotten that day--the more stimulation, the more likely she is to chill.

When I am sitting down--at the table, on the couch, on the floor, etc--she is almost always what I would consider the opposite of relaxed. These are the times she will be trotting in circles around the living room, chasing her tail, jumping up on me, running back and forth from me to the door. Are these stress behaviors in and of themselves (I have not been watching for lip-licking and things like that)? Or are they just naughty/attention-seeking? Are they bad? Is part of the goal to get rid of this behavior? Obviously it is annoying to me and I would rather she do something else., but I have learned to ignore it for the most part. The only time she doesn't act like this while I'm sitting down is if I put her in a long down-stay. I can sit down and ignore her and she will stay (usually, though I might have to reset her a couple times) and eventually flop on a hip and put her head down on her paws, though she will watch me constantly. Is she relaxed? Or does the fact that she is watching me and will jump up immediately upon being released mean she is not relaxed?

When I am behind closed doors, she does not do her pacing routine. She lays by the door and waits for me. Or else finds her own mischief to get into, e.g., standing on the table, barking out the window.

When she has a bone to chew on, she will lay down and chew on it, but I would not call her behavior relaxed, particularly when Elo is around, because both of them are constantly watching the other to make sure their bone doesn't get stolen. Even without another dog around, I don't think she is relaxed with a bone. I contrast Lok's behavior with a bone--he will chew on it in a leisurely manner, not get up and move until he is done (maybe just to switch to a more comfortable position), and when he done he will breathe a big sigh of contentment and maybe roll on the floor for a minute or two, then probably curl up somewhere and go to sleep. Jun's behavior is more intense, like it is with anything. She is very intent on her chewing, will get up and move to a different spot often, and when she is done, she will get up and start pacing or chasing her tail again. It's almost as if chewing is just another outlet for her . . . frustration? Anxiety? Endless energy? Enthusiam?

Let's see, what else . . . in her crate. Without her bark collar on, both at home and in the car, she almost immediately starts staring up into a random corner of her crate, at a wall or the ceiling, barking sharply and rapidly, crouching and bouncing into her barks, sometimes growling and pulling on the bars of her crate. This alternates with pacing in circles and whining. She will do these things until she is panting hard and will not stop until I put her bark collar on or let her out of her crate. With her bark collar on her behavior can be strikingly different--though if she knows it is loose enough that she won't get shocked, she will sometimes behave the same as above. I put her in her crate with the collar on right before I go to work. Regardless of the tightness of the collar, she usually lays down pretty quickly with her head on her paws, watching me until I leave. When I get home, she is usually barking as described above, unless the collar is very tight. At bedtime, I put the collar on too loose to be effective and she will usually stand up in her crate for awhile, maybe pace and whine for a couple minutes, but she goes to sleep within a few minutes. While at home, I will put her in her crate while I work with the other dogs and she will pace, whine, and bark--UNLESS I leave the crate door open. If the door is open, she will stay in of her own accord, lay down, and watch me (it's a trained behavior we have been working on lately).

When I am petting her, she will lie down, her eyes partly closed, face soft, mouth open. As soon as I stop petting her, she jumps up immediately. She has never sat or layed down next to me while I am sitting down and just been calm--if she is sitting calmly next to me I am either actively petting her or she is in a stay and working.

This morning we went for a walk, per our homework from Sara. We don't usually walk--I started NOT walking my dogs after I got Lok and was unable to break him of pulling on the leash. Walks were frustrating for both of us, and besides that he still needed to run in the yard afterwards to burn off energy. Jun came along and our non-walking continued, despite her walking nicely on a GL. But this morning we went for a 15-minute walk, and Jun behaved exactly as I remember on the few walks she has been on. Hyper-alert. Her head was on a swivel. Looking all around her. She was aware of me, didn't pull, and looked back at me occasionally, but she also seemed to need to see everything around her. She spooked a little at a couple fire hydrants. We only saw two people on our walk and she became very alert, standing up tall and freezing in place (I couldn't see her face it was turned away from me)--I brought a tug so we could play tug every time a person was in sight (our attempt at the first steps of counter-conditioning--I'm getting a food tube this weekend so we can use that too). 

Ok . . . ready, set, go! Psychoanalyze my dog!

Until the past three days, I saw her as a high-drive, intense, crazy, working dog. Now I'm supposed to be working on getting her to relax, but . . . relax when? And what does that mean? I can see her behavior on walks being possibly anxious and fearful, but is her boundless energy at home a problem?

Tonight we are going to start on the RP and just see what happens. I don't really understand how the RP is any different from proofing a stay, but I guess I will not understand it unless I give it a try. For the past three days we've been trying to just shape relaxation. She lays in her crate with the door open, I sit next to her with treats, and treat her for blinking, shifting her weight to a more comfortable position, deep breaths, head on paws, etc. Um . . . I clearly have no idea what I'm doing, because they only result I'm getting is MORE stress. She has no idea what I want and is offering all sorts of behaviors, contorting herself into the weirdest positions, holding her head at all different angles, looking at me, looking away from me, looking all over the room. We tried it out of the crate too, just on the floor, and it was even worse. And when we were done, she spent the rest of the night spinning, spinning, spinning.


  1. I struggled to shape relaxation. I know Sara is EXCELLENT at it, so I'm not sure what I'm missing. I'm just not good at it. The relaxation protocol, too, has been difficult for me. Maisy seemed to do better when I ditched treats and just used verbal praise, but she's a socially-motivated dog, so this worked for us. I also think that to her, treats=working! and she had a hard time relaxing when food was around.

    As for the psychoanalyzing... rather than worrying about the behaviors and if they're naughty or whatever, you might ask yourself a few questions: what is your dog's quality of life like?

    She does sound like a dog that is wound really tight. In fact, she sounds a lot like Maisy. The pacing and the hyper-vigilance especially remind me of my girl.

    Good luck- you have a lot of work to do. You are fortunate to have Sara. Ask her all these questions, too!

  2. How old is Jun? Usually by 2-3ish my dogs know how to relax. I have always had a hard time "shaping" calm with treats or anything other than soft praise. I use my voice to indicate calmness "gooood girrrrl", versus if we're shaping a trick "YAY!" While Jun can't hear you just the visual change in your face for soft praise should work.

    For my young dogs (ahem Kate, but also Fergie and Java) who are not calm, on a leash attached to me, in the house. However no attention from me unless they are laying calmly by my side. Being attached to a short leash, there's nowhere to pace, so they try to get attention by clawing at your lap or nudging you, I ignore them or if necessary tell them to knock it off. Once they lay down, soft praise, soft eyes all that RP jazz. This has worked for all dogs, and it takes about 3-4 months until they can be off leash in the house and relax usually, sometimes less (Fergie) sometimes more (Kate). Also it's imperative all my dogs know how to relax in a crate, I don't know how you do that craziness. Is it any better in like an airline type crate? What if she's completely covered in darkness like a parrot?

    Now staying in a crate while you work another dog... not a skill my dogs have. ;)

  3. Just re-read what I wrote. I'm not saying works for ALL dogs, just all my dogs. Certainly there is a level of anxiety in some dogs... haha. Do you think also it could be that it's winter and so Jun isn't getting as much exercise as usual? Like if she was physically exhausted she would be able to relax right?

  4. @Crystal--quality of life--that is exactly the question I'm struggling with. Up until now, I've never seen her behavior as an issue that might affect her quality of life. It's just been "her." Now I'm not so sure. And that video of Maisy and the couch reminded me SO much of Jun!

    @Sarah--Jun is 3 (and 1/2-ish) and is only slightly calmer than she was at 8 months old when I got her. The leashing sounds like a good idea! I think I will give that a try for a week or two and see if we make any progress that way! At least it will inhibit her pacing and maybe give her some structure--she seems to do a lot better when she has structure. She is no better in a different type/covered crate. She was for awhile, then it wore off. Everything we've tried for crate barking (and we have tried EVERYTHING) has worked temporarily. But the same solution never works twice in a row. The bark collar's effectiveness is lessening, so I may have to go back to trying something else again.

    @Sarah again--Jun is getting just as much exercise as she does in the summer if not more (colder, she can run longer without getting tired), and she is getting more training/mental stimulation than she does in the summer. It is not possible to wear this dog out. She acts the same regardless of her level of activity--in fact, sometimes she is even be worse when she is really worn out, like a human toddler. Put her in her crate (with her bark collar on) and she will fall asleep, but out of her crate she can't calm herself down. The only time she is better in the house is when she's had a FULL weekend of non-stop activity and attention. But I rarely can give her that much, and I don't think it should take that much to get her to chill out.

  5. I totally understand. I didn't really think of it as a quality of life thing until I saw the videos and took the logs. Then the severity of Maisy's anxiety really hit me.

    I have no idea if that applies to Jun or not, of course, but I think these are the kinds of things you should be thinking about.

  6. I think definitely the leashing will help. The biggest thing is preventing behaviors you don't like, so you'll have a head start on controlling that. We had a rescue we tried everything with and nothing worked for barking in the crate. What about a small room? Like a bathroom? Does she freak out?

  7. I am definitely going to try leashing, starting tonight.

    I have not tried confining her in a room for more than a minute or two. She's always been fine confined in a room for a short period of time. I would worry about my stuff if I were to keep her in there longer. Our trainer suggested trying an x-pen. Worth a try, but I will have to buy one and they are not cheap.

    I wish I could figure out why she does it. She doesn't usually bark when crated at comps. It's just at home and in the car. And it almost seems like it's just for her own entertainment.

  8. Hmmm it almost sounds OCDish. I have no advice to help with Jun's relaxation. I don't think I would be good at trying to shape it and I can see stressing my dogs out more. Treats and the clicker mean training to them and training means offering behaviors. Just doesn't mesh with a true relaxation.

    Using a tug toy for counter conditioning seems like it could backfire. Tugging increases arousal levels and you want to decrease them. If I am tugging with Vito he is way more likely to have a reactive outburst to something then if we were just hanging out or training with treats.

  9. @Laura, yes, I initially thought it was OCD too. But I didn't think it made sense for OCD behaviors to only occur in my presence. She never trots circles or spins unless I'm in the room.

    Regarding the tugging, I can totally see your point. I was going off of PMcC's book Feisty Fido, which encourages use of toys for a toy-crazy dog. I can see a tug getting Vito even more amped up (same for Elo), but Jun doesn't really have reactive "outbursts." Not on leash at least. She just kind of freezes out of fear. So my thinking was, counter-conditioning is about conditioning a different emotional response to the trigger. She loves to play more than anything. If seeing people can be reframed for her to mean something super-cool and fun, like playing tug, then it seems like I would be accomplishing the goal. I will definitely ask Sara what she thinks though. I do plan to use food also, but it was -3 this morning and I was not about to dole out treats with bare hands!! The tug could be operated with gloves, and I would think a food tube also can, but I have to buy one this weekend.

  10. If Jun doesn't really get reactive on leash then I guess I would use the toy! I think it would create change in emotions faster and have the added benefit of having the reward continue the entire time instead of all the pauses that come with treating.