Regressions & Plateaus

Regressions. The dirty word!

It’s quite common to see dogs have regressions if anything in their world changes in a way that they perceive as “upsetting”. 

This can be anything from illness, injury, trauma (including events we might not perceive as traumatic, such as a smoke or fire alarm, or a dog snarking at them at the park), all the up to something more obvious such as a move, a birth or death in the family, a change in a dog walker, a thunderstorm, a vet visit, etc.

A regression can be traumatic for US! When we build our dog up to a certain point where they can handle an absence of say, 10 minutes, and then suddenly, at the drop of a hat, they are panicking at 30 seconds, that is terribly upsetting. 

Sometimes it is contextual – they’re not feeling well that day, the weather is off, something has changed in the environment temporarily. We give them the day off and we try it again the next day. Not to worry. Sometimes they bounce back, and other times, they struggle. 

When they struggle, we have to take note and ensure we’re keeping a close eye on the data tracking sheet. What changed? Anything?

How do we patch up this weakness in the foundation? How do we go back in time?

Until we figure out time-travel, the best we can do is step back in the missions with them, and reassess. Run another assessment and see how long they can handle being alone. If the assessment results show they can only handle 30 seconds, go back to repeat a mission that is a little easier than 30 seconds. (Remember – we keep them sub-threshold!)

You might find that this one little patch-up mission is enough to get them back on track, or you might find yourself at this new starting point and working your way up again as you have in the past. 

Don’t be discouraged. 

Easier said than done…but these things happen, and the truth of the matter is that this is life. Your dog needs to have a regression at least once, in order to learn how to handle it as it’s going to happen later in life anyway! Regressions are normal. They help us learn. 

What’s a Plateau?

Plateaus occur when our dog hits a point in their training and can’t seem to get past that speed bump. We keep running the same mission and they continue struggling at the same point. 

How can we make that point easier? Can we drop a couple PDQs for a couple days and keep the duration the same? Can we adjust the time of the most challenging jump? Instead of leaving for 45 minutes after accomplishing 40 minutes successfully, leave for 42 minutes! Take smaller steps. 

This can happen. Not to worry – it’s just a sticking point and you can make it through! You might want to alternate days; on Monday you push to 42 minutes, on Tuesday you only push to 10 minutes, on Wednesday you push to 44 minutes, on Thursday you only push to 25 minutes, on Friday you try 45 minutes, etc. Alternating days can help reduce the overall (general) stress sometimes and build things up more gradually. 

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