Friday, May 7, 2010

What can I do to help my dog?

That is the question of the day. I'm really trying to get into the mindset of asking, "What can I do to help my dog be successful?" when he appears to not understand what it is I am asking him to do in an exercise, or reducing his stress level. Lately, I've been thinking more about the stress thing. I'm wondering what I may be doing to create/reinforce stress, and/or what can I do to reduce the stress he feels in trial situations? The stress is definitely affecting his performance in the ring, so maybe I need to examine more closely, and objectively, what I am doing. Am I unconsciously reinforcing his reaction to stressful situations?

I really do believe dogs pick up on the handler's emotions. I was in denial for a long time regarding my nervousness in the ring - thinking that if I said I wasn't nervous, I wouldn't be nervous :) But, in fact, I do get nervous in the ring and I'm sure Jackson picks up on that. It is getting better though. I believe if you 'act' confident, you will become confident, so I am trying to practice acting confident - and more relaxed in the ring. If I can get control of that, it may go a long way to helping him.

I need to examine what else I am doing or not doing to increase Jackson's confidence. When we are waiting our turn to go in the ring I tend to have my hands on Jackson a lot, if he's not in his crate. I find myself stroking him and massaging his shoulders - thinking that is relaxing him, and me. But, is it? He also likes to sit on my lap. Now you may be wondering how a Dane can sit on your lap - easy, they just back up to you and sit :) Is allowing this behavior reducing or reinforcing stress? Should I just leave him in his crate except for taking him out to warm up prior to going in the ring?

Away from the trials, I am following through with my goal of getting him out several times per week to train in new locations, which I think may help with working through distractions. Yesterday we went to the Wal-Mart parking lot and worked on some attention and heeling exercises for a few minutes. There happened to be a couple pylons set up to block off a drive so that was perfect for doing some figure 8s. Finding new places to work for a few minutes is turning out to be easier than I thought.

If anyone has found exercises that helped them reduce their own stress and that of their dogs, I'd love to hear them!


Crystal said...

Oh, ring stress.

My dog and I suffer from this. No, wait, I suffer from this, and it drags her down. She can't figure out why mom is acting so weird, and they she does weird displacement behaviors in an effort to... I don't know. Ignore me? Calm me down? Whatever it is, it affects our performance.

One thing that helps me a fair amount is Rescue Remedy. It sounds absolutely crazy, but using it helps calm me down enough that I don't have to eat Pepto tabs the whole trial.

The other thing I did recently was get hypnotized. Again, I know it sounds crazy, but I learned how to induce relaxation, and I'm working on doing it at home, so that it gets easier each time. I'm hoping that by the next time I get to a trial, I'll be able to summon up that feeling of calmness... we'll see.

At trials, my dog and I both do better if between runs we go outside and walk... not exercise walks, but slow, meandering, sniff everything we can walks. It helps take my mind off how nervous I am, and I think it reduces the stimulation for my dog.

I hope you find something that helps!

Kathie R said...

Crystal, Thanks for the suggestions. Actually, I have tried Rescue Remedy - for me and for Jackson - but couldn't really see it made a difference. I considered having a glass of wine prior to the trial, but was afraid that might get me too relaxed :)

Never tried hypnotizm. I am trying to learn some relaxation exercises though, so maybe that will help. I think one of the things that has helped, is trying to change the way I look at trialing - convincing myself that it really isn't a life or death event!

Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

I have no idea how to calm myself down. So instead I try to keep Lance away from me as much as possible. I am lucky that he likes and feel comfortable in his crate. When i do take him out I do a lot of his tricks to keep my mood uplight but it still works his attention.

At practices I have also practiced heeling while holding my breath so I can try and imitate my body posture and stress that I have when in the actual ring. And have practiced heeling right after I've just made myself run around so my heart rate is up really high.

Honey the Great Dane said...

I think Laura's suggestions of trying to practice replicating the ring situation are really good. Although I still think it's hard to really replicate it.

I know I also am very nervous when we're performing - what happens with me is I get very "uptight" (I can see this in my own videos) and I'm sure she picks up on this.

What I do with Honey - she responds a lot to my tone of voice - it's what I primarily train with - and so I tend to talk a lot to her just before we go in. I find if I chatter and talk silly things to her in an upbeat, cheerful voice then she seems to think that I'm less uptight and then she isn't so tressed herself. I find it also helps me because I can actually 'talk ourselves down' - like , "Hah! It's our turn next, Honey. This'll be a laugh - ha! ha! Oh well, I guess we'll be providing the entertainment today! Ha! Ha! Oh well, here we go!" - sort of like telling myself not to have high expectations and talking as if we're going to muck up but in a silly, cheerful, 'who cares?' kind of way - and then that sort of calms ME down as well as letting Honey think I'm in a jokey mood. I have found that our performances when I do this are definitely better than when I'm standing outside, stroking her, going "OK, are you're going to be a good girl? Are you going to do it properly today?" or endlessly practising her moves, trying to make sure she does them properly...that all winds me up even more. So I find it's better to take the focus AWAY from the whole trial just before we're going in and trivialise it - make it like a bit of a laugh and a joke.

I have to say, watching your videos from your last post - I'm still not convinced that Jackson is stressed as such from crowds, dogs, etc. I could be wrong but he looks less anxious and more just demotivated and 'bored' - I think he's got it into his head now that the ring is this boring place where he has to do stuff that he's done a million times and isn't that excited about. So I think what I suggested last time about trying to get him out of his mental rut in between trials by training something completely new and different - teach him new tricks or exercises, completely different to his Obedience stuff - just to get him back to enjoy working with you. They enjoy learning new things - Honey gets a totally different lookin her eyes and diff attitude when she's learning new stuff - compared to doing stuff she already knows and has done for ages. Unfortunately, we don't have the kind of dogs that enjoy doing the same things over and over again - so then they start associating working with YOU as boring too. So I think it's good to offset that with doing some new, "fun" things with him - so that he can see you in a new light again and then that might hopefully spill over as well when you are in the trials with him.

Otherwise, I think taking him to practise in lots of new places is a great idea.

By the way, have you seen my latest post about our time at dog dancing camp? There are some funny vidoes which illustrate perfectlly the difference between all these other working breeds whizzing and spinning across the screen - and then Honey, plodding along...! But then considering that she was the only giant breed there, the fact that she could even be in a workshop with all those Malinois & GSD's and Border Collie's is an achievement! :-)


Honey the Great Dane said...

By the way, when I said "new fun things" - I don't mean it has to be silly tricks. You can still teach him other obedience type exericses but just in a way he's never done them before, so that they're more interesting and challenging for him. For example, have you tried getting him to do his commands sitting BEHIND you? (you facing away so he can't see your face) or even you lying on the floor and calling his commands to him - will he still do them? (there is a video of me doing this with Honey in our latest post) - this is a great test of reliability. Both top dog trainers I went to see recently recommended this kind of thing to challenge the dog and also improve your reliability. It would help your stress issue too since if he can perform to a higher standard of reliability, then he can probably perform better under stress.

Has he learned to back up yet? If not, why not try to teach him? Walking backwards would be a totally new thing for him to focus on and the greater hind end awareness would help with his Left Turns for heeling. Similarl with learning to pivot. If he can walk backwards facing you, can he walk backwards next to you? ie. Heel backwards? This would throw a bit of variety into his usual heeling and is still good for developing control of his movement with you.

Also - for the heelign - are you allowed to walk faster in trials? Because I find with Honey that if I pick up my pace, she heels much better and is more animated. I noticed Jackson was the same in the videos - when you went round the people and he had to pick up his pace to keep up - he looked slightly more alert and into it.

The trainer form the UK said that you never want the dogs to "pace" - this is an energy-saving speed which is the dog being "switched off" - you really want the dog to be trotting because this makes them alert and focused - but with small dogs, they can be doing this even with you walking at normal pace - whereas with a giant breed, you need to walk faster. So if you can walk faster at your "normal" pace at trials, that's what I would be doing. The minute you slow down, Jackson starts switching off.

Good luck!