It's been a long haul to get back to daily focused training since Emma injured her knee. She was already showing signs of training stress and burnout before the injury, but afterwards she just fell apart for a while. Slinking, sulking, urinating and hiding became the fare for the day as she became more anxious and stressed by lack of play and exercise outside and limited play inside (she was unable to play with Jack in the house because of her knee). For her, with her in a growth period that is normally hard on young dogs and tends to send them into tailspins anyway, it was best to stop forcing a training session on her and let her relax and work out her stress in the only method available to her - chewing.
After the recovery from the injury she still couldn't take stress well and it was a slow and plodding progress to bring the joy to learning again. I don't want a dog who trains because I want too, but because they want too. She didn't want too. She wasn't In The Game and so I spent precious time getting her back into the game and consulting with friends who also train using not only the Levels method, but simply Positive Re-Enforcement to find what makes Emma tick.
Emma is not Jack. Emma is not Max. Emma is not Attitude or Dieter either. Emma is unique to herself and what worked for the others, their ability to handle stress and one on one focus was much different than her. Emma is a soft dog. Jack is a soft dog also, but in so many different ways than Emma is. Jack has confidence in himself and the people around him, but he's still working out his environment some days and needs extra help there. Emma is soft with people, but the environment doesn't seem to affect her.
It's like watching Dieter and Attitude for the years they shared a life together - Attitude loved people and saw no strangers. Attitude loved dogs and saw no strangers. Attitude was afraid of floor changes, wet pavement, rain pattering on the roof, loud sounds, thunder, wind and much everything in her environment. It sent her into a tailspin and rushing into my or another persons arms shivering with fear - but the moment she met a person or another dog she was all wiggles and soft body happy and couldn't believe she hadn't known they were her friends before they met.
Dieter is afraid of strangers. Dieter is worried about new dogs. Dieter is not afraid of floor changes, wet pavement, rain pattering on the roof, loud sounds, thunder, wind or much in his environment. He was her polar opposite and what scared one didn't the other. They found great strength in that and did well as a pair as a result. Dieter took his cues from Attitude about other dogs and people, she off him about the world in general.
It is easy to make Jack shrink into himself if he thinks your mad. It took a lot of work to keep him from thinking my raising my voice to call Max or another dog was NOT yelling at him and he's learned that. Max loves hearty rib thumps and it took months to convince Jack, by starting light and giving ever increasing pressure, that a good rib thump was this GSD Mom's way of saying "I love you" and have him lean into it and wag his tail. Jack is older and thus has more confidence than Emma and what shuts her down simply slows him - but both are considered soft dogs.
Emma, unlike Jack, will go into her own personal shell the moment she thinks she's wrong. She shrinks and sulks and pees and hides if she thinks she's wrong and it doesn't take much to make her think that. I have had one very very soft GSD who all I had to do was frown to send her skulking for cover. She was the easiest dog to correct because I never had to raise my voice or touch or do anything but frown. I had to be careful that I smiled as she came to me, which was easy because she made me smile and when I was playing with her to not frown or she'd be gone in a heart beat. Emma is more sensitive than that!
Leaning! LEANING over Emma makes her feel she's in trouble, even if all I am doing is putting her food dish down. She is an expert at reading facial expressions and anything outside of a happy, soft gaze makes her start to worry she is in trouble, even if all I am doing is reading a book on my iPad! Changes in my body posture sets her off. Emma has been trained using only positive re-enforcement, but she's such a soft natured dog that it takes very little to make her worry about her world. What to do with such a personality?
Well, first stop and give her lots of positive, low pressure experience with lots of facial expressions, body postures, voice changes and anything else that may make her worried. Praise her or ask her if she's being silly when hiding behind my recliner. Play frown games with her where she's wound up in a frenzy of excitement and flash a frown while playing her favorite grabby games. Lean over her when giving her loving, gentle, non-threatening praise or affection. But stop training anything that adds stress and starts to associate negative feelings with something that should be fun. Basically, change her emotional response to frowns or neutral facial expressions and changes in body position so she's not worried, but engaged with the person she's working with.
So, I did. I stopped and talked and thought and worked with her in a variety of ways to make her feel confident and safe, no matter which way my mouth was turned or my eyebrows where set. On Friday I sat on the floor and groomed her while she relaxed and slept in my lap and on Sunday after her bath I carefully groomed her while she was in my lap and chatted to her the entire time using a variety of voice changes. Mom and I both saw improved confidence while we worked on the patio, even if I was gazing off in the distance with a frown while I tried to remember where I put something - she no longer slunk away or wilted when she saw me frown. Leaning no longer meant training, but kisses on the nose or gentle strokes on the face and reading didn't mean I forgot her, but she could curl against me and relax. Having something in her mouth, which she was convinced meant trouble, was greeted with a happier voice than before (I sound like a chipmunk somedays) and a bigger smile that I try hard to push into my eyes to reassure her she's okay to be chewing on a ball or stick or bone.
And chewing is where all this fell apart for both of us. Emma is a destructive chewer, which can be handled by monitoring her when she has toys or giving her toys that are hers and not another dogs to ruin. Except she's not just a destructive chewer, I suspect she has a bit of Pica also. She EATS everything she can find. Lily bulbs (long day after inducing vomit), brick-a-brac from the grass, dirt pile and gravel area of my old driveway, stuffed toys, bits of paper, leaves; it doesn't matter, she'll eat a portion of whatever she's chewing on.
All of the toys in my home are my personal dogs toys. The toys I purchased for Emma she's already destroyed. Max enjoys playing with Stuffies and I used to let them lay about for his pleasure. I cannot do that. Most of Max's stuffies were Attitude's old toys from her puppyhood.
I had at one point 2 stuffless toys - a fox and a skunk. I cannot watch Emma 100% of the time and in the short periods I was occupied with something else she managed to rip them in two and at one point I lost track of half of the fox. It showed up the following day in Emma's poop. She must of slurped it down like a string of Spaghetti because it was intact when it came out. Two other toys, her own, she chewed into pieces ranging from the size of my thumbnail to smaller than my pinky nail and ate over half of the toy. She is at risk of impacting her bowels if she's allowed to play with stuffed toys.
She was, for a short time allowed ropes, but when she found one and rendered it to pieces smaller than a pin head and ate half of that, I discontinued them in the fare of toys available. No cloth, stuffed or rope toys for Emma in my home. I am not made of money, cannot replace all of the toys she'd destroy and am not emotionally ready to see Attitude's toys destroyed.
Then she got a hold of a puppy Kong and broke it into 20 separate pieces I could find. To say that Emma's poop is colorful if I am not careful is an understatement. That means I must monitor what toys she plays with closely. She cannot have Kongs unsupervised unless they are black or blue, red Kongs are still too soft for her careful destructive work on the openings. She cannot have Max's Chuck It balls which have holes for the same reason - she has tried and started to break pieces off of them. She cannot have a regular tennis ball because she eats them. She must be monitor with the rubber orange with a blue stripe Chuck It balls because she works the seams and begins to tear them apart.
This leaves her being monitored with Chuck It balls, red Kong toys and the occasional tennis ball. She has the freedom to chew on bones and sticks. She loves sticks. I must carefully walk my yard every morning when I let her out because I have small white mushrooms growing in my backyard I must pluck out before she eats them. I found her one day eating the giant white mushroom that snuck under my fence from next door and tore the thing out to protect her from poisoning herself.
What happened is this: Every time I turned my back on her she put SOMETHING in her mouth in my yard. A plant or some find in the grass and ATE it. In the house I had to finally put up and take away from Max his stuffed toys (he hasn't had them for 3 months now) so Emma wouldn't get them and destroy them. This means Max only gets them on the weekends if I remember to pull one or two out. The result was my disheartened sigh of, "What are you eating now?" I think she may believe that's her name. Emma is convinced anytime she hands me something she's in trouble, which she isn't, but I am trying very hard to keep a puppy with puppy Pica from poisoning herself!
I set this up - retrieve is very very very stressful for her because I have said, "NOW what are you eating?" so many times she's convinced she needs to sneak off to eat her prize. I am now to a point that most everything in my yard is safe for her and I can joyfully stay, "What ya got?" instead. I am repairing a history of frustration with a dog who can't seem to not eat everything she shouldn't when playing.
So, after talking for a long time with a friend and fellow trainer I started shaping her retrieve and today she was fully involved in the game with the pen until she picked it up, handed it to me and suddenly shrunk into herself. I had her do some easy behaviors (sit, down, target, shake) and then reshaped the pen. She recovered fine and picked it up a second time and seemed prouder and more confident.
Later I worked with a new item. This time a washcloth and darn it she's learned her mat behavior too well and was targeting it as a mat! Good for her. After I convinced her with clicks for nose targets on the floor she started the process of picking it up and we ended there. On the next round with the washcloth I helped her think of the final outcome by having her take it from my hand, low to the ground and hand it up. Again, the "oh no, in trouble again" behavior started and we went back to easy behaviors. We ended with her taking it from my hand and giving it to me in with more confidence.
This will be a slower process, but I want her to ENJOY the most important aspect of her career and find joy in helping. To do this I need her to know that picking up items and handing them to people makes them happy!
I also got to talk to Robin again today and we compared some of Emma's behaviors with soft natured dogs that Robin has trained and believe I am on a nice balanced approach to resolving this part of her training. She's responding well in all other training behaviors, just retrieve is our problem child now and with patience I'll get that resolved.
For now, we'll continue to play the "What ya got?" games with items I know I can give back and build her confidence.
The video attached (poorly framed, sorry!) is Emma and I working our 5th session for the day. I started shaping, but she is tired in the video and so I gave her a bit of a headsup on what I was asking. You can see her confidence is increasing by her not shutting down when she hands me the pen, but she's still showing some signs she's confused and not sure what I am asking. These signs are the paw up and the nearly inanimate way she's behaving. During the day I had tethered Jack and crated Max so she had less pressure on her when I trained her, but in this video Max (who figured out I wanted him away from us when I train this behavior) is laying quietly in the background. She is working for Cherios today because she likes them and they are a new treat she's never had before.
There are a handful of superstitious behaviors shown. She's laying on and next too the pen because her most recent training success was mat work. She is raising her paw when she hands me the pen because of how my hand is held and her uncertainty of what I am asking of her. She's laying down when I put the pen down and thinks she needs to be in a down position to start a retrieve. All of this can be worked through, right now, feeling secure that taking and giving a pen or other object to me is okay is what I am asking and once she realizes that each time she does this she has succeeded she'll gain confidence.
Another factor in this video is she is tired. It's close to our bedtime and the first video I took she dropped out of frame and I realized I quickly needed to make another. As a result, I needed to gently encourage her to participate when what she really wanted to do was digest her dinner. I am keeping my voice very soft and slightly animated because big overtures when she gives me a pen, an expression of my joy she succeeded, sends her for a tailspin right now. I saw with the softer, quieter communication her tail waving and her willing to do ONE MORE TIME because I asked. She's a trooper - she just needs gentle handling when working her to build her confidence and let her know she's on the right track and making her humans happy.
|Focus||Lazy Leash||Go To Mat||Crate||Distance|
|Focus||Lazy Leash||Go To Mat||Crate||Distance|
|Focus||Lazy Leash||Go To Mat||Crate||Distance|