Monday, January 24, 2011

In Which We've All Learned to Chill Out . . .

 . . . well, started to at least.

Jun and I have a lot in common. I've been described as having no off switch. Sometimes I run just for the hell of it (ok, short sprints with a purpose like from the car to the park--I'm NOT a runner). And if people are "doing something," I'm in! If I don't get something right away, sometimes I get frustrated. And I appreciate structure and rules---I like to know how my world works and where I stand in it. I don't do well with down-time--I get restless and am not good at not doing anything (though I have gotten better in the past couple years thanks to some coaching from a friend).

All of the above applies to Jun. So realizing all of that really helped in figuring out the answers to my two questions from last week.

What is relaxation? I have a border collie. She's young, fit, energetic, and a little bit crazy. All of that is good! Relaxation does not mean semi-comatose. My dog can be both active and alert as well as relaxed. For example this video from relaxation guru Leslie McDevitt, depicts a "relaxed" dog, or so she claims. I would have though of this more as having good impulse control--more of an "operant relaxed." The dog is clearly poised for action, jumps up quickly when released, but is also able to think through arousal and demonstrate good impulse control. Jun doesn't have impulse control issues. So I guess, by this definition she is pretty good at relaxing.

The more important definition of relaxation, for our situation, is that it is the opposite of anxiousness. Anxiety (as I'm using the word) is a state of being uncertain, and also uncomfortable with that uncertainty. I have realized that Jun is anxious when she doesn't know what she's supposed to be doing.  She is also anxious when she's not sure how to respond to a stimuli (thus the fear issues we're working on). I think Jun is, in general, a happy and relaxed dog, but she has a rule set that she operates by and when something happens that doesn't mesh with her rules, this causes anxiety. So in the past week I have set about trying to provide a bit more structure for Jun.

One such situation (the primary one at home) is when I'm sitting down--at the table, on the couch, on the floor. For whatever reason, this is the time she is most likely to pace and spin. My friend Sarah suggested last week that I try leashing Jun to me in the house. The difference has been dramatic!! Since she's leashed to me, she has little choice but to lie down and chill. And it creates a situation different enough from "training" that I am actually able to shape calm without her going into operant mode! For example, I sat down on the couch to read a book and tethered her to the couch leg. At first she was just trying to get on the couch and struggling--not afraid of being tied, just being a brat. When she stopped and stood nicely I gave her a treat. When she sat I gave her a treat. Then when she laid down, then when she put her head down, then when she flopped on her side. By the end of half an hour she was almost asleep! I have never in 2 1/2 years been able to sit down on the couch and relax with Jun out of her crate! A couple nights ago we did the same while I watched a movie. It took a lot less time for her to settle and she slept almost the whole time--got up maybe 5 or 6 times, but quickly settled back down when she saw nothing was going on. Wow! I think in 2 1/2 years this is the most *I've* been able to relax with her around! I don't know why this never occurred to me! We've had less spinning the past week than we've ever had since she was 8 months old. I am hoping that with several months of this she will come to see me sitting down and ignoring her as a cue to chill and this will just become part of her routine/rule set.

I've also been managing the crate barking better. When I'm home and need to confine her, I've been putting her in the bathroom instead of her crate. This seems to have changed the picture for her enough that even without her collar it doesn't trigger her barking habit. She just lays down and chills. Crazy! For whatever reason she also has not been barking in her crate when I get home from work for the past few days. I'm not sure if it's the general atmosphere of relaxation I've been fostering with her or that I've been keeping her bark collar tighter, but either way, it's less nerve-wracking for ME when I don't come home to barking and sets a better tone for the rest of the night.

Finally, the Relaxation Protocol. We started it. We've done it every day for the past 5 days. I have no idea if it's doing anything other than building some great stays on my dogs, but even if that's all it does, I'm cool with it. It at least gives ME some structure for our training sessions! Interestingly, the skill they all have the hardest time with is laying still for anything over 5 seconds with me just standing there. I guess when we work stays I've always stood back a few steps or been walking around doing something to distract them. When I'm just standing there, they are usually supposed to be offering behaviors--so it took us a few days to move up from level one, but now they are all doing really well. Especially Lok. It's very low-pressure for him and he's loving it!

1 comment:

  1. What great news! Such a simple solution that we can all slap ourselves on the forehead for not thinking of it.

    I was just having a conversation about "settles" with somebody and am now reminded of it from your new solution with Jun. With the service dog puppies they need to get used to doing very long downs and I don't like putting them in a stay because they can't handle a stay at that young age and I just don't see a reason for it. So I do forced settles by simply stepping on the leash with just enough slack so they can only lie down and it's uncomfortable to stand or sit. The pups learn quickly that they can't fight the leash, tantrums don't work, and that they might as well just relax. I use a few treats in the beginning to tell them what I want but then I find I get truer relaxation without treats instead of the "fake" relaxation where the dog is posed to get up any second. Not really related to Jun I guess but it just popped back in my head :)

    I'm glad the bathroom idea is working for Jun and fingers crossed it remains that way!

    I think if I were to do the RP my dogs would have the same trouble as yours. Stays are always easier for them when they think I'm proofing. They work harder to hold position then if I'm right there staring at them!