Okay, so far you've been avoiding triggers whenever possible, and every time they happen notice a trigger. shovelling snackies into your dog's gob, as we say back home.
It's really easy for us to stay in management-mode or the Land of Avoidance. It's more peaceful and less stressful in some ways, isn't it?
My hope is that your dog's general stress levels are coming down as a result of this "Cortisol Vacation", making them far more resilient to stressors, able to learn and retain information and training, as well.
Let's start sneaking around, finding those triggers...at safe distances, of course!
Every walk is an opportunity to find a trigger, create an awesome association, and put all that you've learned into play.
A few reminders:
- Distance is your friend! You want to be at a safe distance where your dog doesn't feel threatened so that they can learn and retain.
- Trigger-stacking is very real! If you overdo it, you might find that by the fourth or fifth exposure, your dog is uber-stressed. Short and sweet is best.
- Recovery is just as important as the work itself. Sessions should be followed by a nap, some play, or some chewing. Or all of those. 😉
Now it's time for your assignments:
- Practice your leash-handling skills - get comfy!
- Test your dog's Conditioned Emotional Response (CER)
- Teaching your dog a U-Turn
- Decompression activities
Watch for that moment when your dog spots a trigger and automatically reorients to you for food! That's solid gold! You might pause for a beat before you happy-talk and feed, just to see if they're making the connection. Only do this if you feel like they're in a good place, emotionally, and at a safe distance. Don't wait too long to start the happy-talk and feeding though - staring at the trigger is sure to cause a fire!
When it happens, go nuts! Party and feed like it's your job. But...don't assume that this is a permanent fixture now - it might be a one-off because they're feeling good and the trigger was far enough away.
It's very common for dogs to have a CER with some triggers at certain distances and no CER with other triggers or other distances. You'll get to know this as you go...so expect some outbursts with this trial and error.
Keep working on it, knowing that you're doing something right!
If you're not getting a CER don't stress. I promise you. This is normal at this stage. It just means that they're not making the connection. I want you to let me know right away though! Get in the Community and talk to me about it so we can troubleshoot together. You can get there - we just might need a couple little tweaks.
Keep counterconditioning and changing that emotional response every single chance you get! That's how we get to a CER.
The Emergency U-turn (or "turn and go") is an excellent technique to get the heck outta Dodge when faced with something you / your dog doesn't want to deal with.
The U-Turn must be learned and practised before being put into action so that you can ensure that your dog will react predictably and avoid following the distraction. First, choose a verbal cue to associate with the U-Turn and make sure it doesn't sound anything like another cue that you use.
Ideas for cues: "this way", "watch out", "uh-oh", "danger", "let's go"
With your dog on leash, walk straight ahead at a regular pace and suddenly say your cue, pause for a beat, and then turn your body a full 180º, pivoting on the spot, and take a few jogging steps in the new direction. "Bowl" a few treats onto the ground ahead of your dog in the new direction and ta-da! You've done a U-turn.
Be sure that you do not drag your dog or put pressure on the leash - this has to be a fun game - not one where they get yanked around! Use kissy noises and happy talk to get them to move along with you if you have to.
You may need it when being approached by a person or dog, when your dog is being reactive, when you see that really annoying neighbour or any other time you need to duck out and walk away quickly.
Some ideas for decompression after a rough walk or outburst:
- sniffing (scatter food in the grass, practice "find it")
- exploration (let your dog lead the way if it's safe)
- catching tossed treats
- playing tug (as long as it doesn't cause your dog to over-arouse or bite you)
- a stuffed frozen food toy at home
- a puzzle toy with food at home
- a quiet, dim room with classical music and soft white noise
- a massage (if your dog likes this)
- playing in the water in a kiddie pool (if your dog likes this)
- cuddling on the couch with some ear or belly rubs
- disemboweling some stuffies in the living room
- squeaking a favourite squeaker toy
- playing fetch with lots of breaks (if it doesn't cause them to over-arouse)
What other ways does your dog like to relax or have fun? Tell me in the Community!
Remember that fun should not equal over-arousal. If it gets them jazzed up, it's just increasing the cortisol (stress hormone). Let's look for "enjoyment" or "relaxation" rather than "fun" and "excitement".