FAD2 Day 3

FAD2 Day 3 - Helping Your Dog Feel Safe, Calm, & Happy

Often Dog Owners and Canine Professionals get so focused on the skills that we would like to teach our dog to do that we struggle with remembering why we want our dogs to do that skill in the first place. This is known as being task oriented. Canine Coaches around the world are working to change this narrative or thought process to include more connection or team based training that achieves the same goals but puts the health and welfare of the dog first. This is where the phrase, "Safe, Calm, & Happy" entered the dog training world for me. (Penny) All animals have a basic need to feel SAFE as best as possible. Obviously in the wild there are predators and in domesticated animals there are hazards in life that may inpact this ability to feel safe all of the time. But as a dog owner, I never want to be the one responsible for making my dog feel unsafe. This is where force free, positive reinforcement, and and connection based training all come together to form an ethical standard of care for the dogs in our lives.

Along with the force free ethics of never harming our dogs "in the name of training", it's important to help our dogs feel calm in day to day life. This is where positive reinforcement based training comes into play when we are talking about building connections with our dogs. Many people think this is passing out tasty morsels throughout the day in a "paycheck" type fashion where the dog does a job and we give them a reward. Again this circles back to that task based thinking we get stuck in. True positive reinforcement training looks at other types of reinforcement such as social motivation, connection or teamwork motivation, and functional motivation. You'll hear these come up again and again, so here are brief descriptions:

Social Engagement Motivation:  Using activity based reinforcement that meets a dog's needs for social interactions with other dogs, humans, or any animal. This includes things like puppy playdates, playing training games with the dog owner, and enjoying your favorite things with your dog.

Teamwork Motivation: This can be included in social engagement however since this is the primary method of training new behaviors it's important that we look at individually also. Basically teamwork or connection based motivation is where you use concepts based training games that your dog enjoys to reinforce the behaviors you want to them to keep doing.

Functional Motivation: Uses things the dogs want and will try to get by doing the behavior that makes most sense to them in the moment or that they have practiced most in similar activities. This can include the fun of chasing that squirrel or neighborhood cat until it escapes up a nearby try which is motivated by the dog's desire to hunt for prey. And it can also include the over reacting dog that barks and/or lunges at a trigger to tell them to back off, which typically works because that generally causes the trigger to do just that and move away rapidly.

As Day 3 focusing on Feeling Safe, Calm, and Happy the Canine Coaches wanted to make sure we were all starting with these basic principles in mind as we won't be discussing them in great detail in the video. Instead in the FAD2 Day 3 video below, we focus on the main objective of Helping our Dogs Feel Safe, Calm, and Happy in the environments we put them in.

Helping Your Dog Feel Safe

As dog owners, it's our responsibility to help them feel safe, calm, & comfortable in the environments we place them in.

We do this first by learning about the emotions that drive the behaviors. The bigger the emotion the bigger the behavior! Understanding the emotions allows you to take action before the dog feels unsafe
Then we need to look for environments that help our dogs feel safe to play, train, and exercise in together as a team.

It's important to choose the environments wisely before taking our dogs anywhere no matter if it's for training, work or fun. We want to set up our dogs for success by choosing locations where we can reasonably predict the distractions and/or triggers that are likely to be present. We wouldn't take a dog reactive dog to play or train a few feet away from the dog park as that would lead to flooding the dog so full of emotions that they wouldn't be able to learn. We learned about the Flight, Fight, & Freeze mode in Day 2 and how our dogs can no longer learn when they have slide into these modes. 

If we are working on desensitization and counter conditioning to a specific trigger, then we need to set up at distance where our dog can feel safe and use various types of reinforcement to help our dogs be successful at that distance before we begin to shrink that distance. We don't have time in this workshop to go over the fine steps of successfully using desensitization and counter conditioning techniques to change the emotional reaction to triggers, but what's important today is that we use distance away from the distraction to keep our dogs feeling safe the whole training session. If we are seeing any large emotionally driven behaviors such as barking, lunging, or pulling to/away from the trigger then we are not being successful in our session and need to back up and perhaps try further away in the next training session. It's also important to note that all training sessions with this purpose should be set up using triggers or distractions that you can control. Another dog/handler team that has agreed to be a helper dog team can be a great resource in setting up training, the random dog that comes running toward you on the trail is not the time to conduct training.

We all know that life is not perfect and despite our best intentions, triggers or distractions pop up when we least expect them. Hopefully we are setting up the environment in a way that minimizes that from happening so that we can prevent our dogs from experiencing those big emotions and practicing the behaviors we are trying to adjust. When the unexpected happens, it's important to have a strong connection based on teamwork, not force, that helps us get out of the environment as calmly and safely as possible. We call this the "Exit Strategy!" In last year's FAD Workshop we covered many games that can be helpful in creating a personalized Exit Strategy. Some of our favorites are the U-Turns or direction changes, the Distraction Marker Game, and the Proximity Game. It's important to create an Exit Strategy that works for your team because not all dogs (or humans) are going to find it easy to do the same behaviors when their beginning to feel unsafe. The Crazy2Calm Canine Coaches are happy to work with you to help you figure out your Exit Strategy.

Helping Your Dog Calm Down

How many times have you heard that you teach a dog to stop jumping on people by having them sit for petting. But then you've had what seems like the only dog on the planet that simply can't sit in that situation. Trust me you're not alone! Every dog is an individual and has different preferences, just like their owners. When it comes to helping your dog learn to calm down, this is definitely not a one-size-fits-all process. The training plan has start where the dog is in the current moment in time and take into account what is happening in the environment, what is that dog's normal calm baseline, and what other needs does that dog have in the moment. The jumping dog that simply can't sit, often has a whole ton of excitement based energy and NEEDS to move. Therefore having the dog chase a ball for the visitor or playing ball before company arrives can be very useful. If you don't meet the dog's need, training is going to progress much slower.

The other important thing to consider is that every dog needs to feel safe before they can begin to calm down. If the dog has high anxiety in general or is fearful of visitors, they are not going to be able to calm down while the visitor comes and greets everyone. In that situation, a plan has to be made to address the dog's fear and/or anxiety before you can progress in helping your dog calm down.

Once you've taken care of your dog's physical and emotional needs, you can begin to look at training new skills that can help your dog calm down. There may be many pieces to this training plan, but most likely you will be doing some type of crate, mat, bed, or station training. For the purposes of creating calm, the training is the same no matter if you using a blanket, mat, dog bed, raised station or even a crate so for this workshop we are simply going to refer to this as Mat Training.

Generally I like to develop a routine that leads from Point A - Excitement to Point B - the dog laying calmly in their spot. Excited dogs can't just suddenly turn off. In the beginning that routine might take longer and have more components but with time and practice the dog learns to turn off more easily. You might follow steps similar to this in your routine.

  1. Play with your dog or go for a walk.
  2. Come in and take dog gear off and your shoes, coat, etc.
  3. Have a 5-10 training session doing skills your dog knows well. Keep it simple for success.
  4. End the training session with Mat Training.
  5. Provide a long lasting chew, lickmat, or puzzle for your dog to work on while they are laying on the mat.
Check out this blog on "What the heck is shaping?"

Helping Your Dog Be Happy 

If we are ever going to make a difference in changing the narrative of dog training, we have to consider the ethical parts of meeting our dogs needs which is what we are referring to when we want to help your dog be happy.  Our dogs have basic needs for survival, emotional needs including social needs, and mental enrichment needs. 

Basic survival based needs are often considered as food, water, shelter and sometimes healthcare. Emotional needs including the social connection with their person and other animals, the need to "feel safe, calm, and happy" in the environment, and the need of feeling like there is predictability and/or reliability in day to day life. Then mental enrichment needs are often most challenging because they can include breed specific needs, individual dog needs, and lifestyle needs. Most generally dog owners look for more enriching ways to feed their dog in ways that can meet their basic needs, emotional needs, and mental needs at the same time. 

One great way to meet all your dog's needs is to feed their meal in a way that allows them sniff or seek their food which is a basic survival skill that has started to disappear in domesticated animals due to lack of practice and/or experience. We can use items such as snuffle mats, snuffle boxes, and scatter feeding in various environments to help engage our dog's seeking systems which satisfies a basic need and uses mental energy. If we want to tie in the third area of emotional/social needs we can engage that seeking system in games such as Find It and Hide-N-Seek to meet that need.

Another great way to meet enrichment needs is to use puzzle toys and slow feeders such as lickmats, topples, and toys that release kibble slowly. This is often part of the "Ditch The Bowl" mission to help dog owners learn to find more interactive ways to feed their dog other than simply putting a boring bowl of kibble down for our dog 2-3 times a day. You can use a portion of your dog's meals each day in training sessions where you hand feed or otherwise dole out food reinforcement for the dog's choice of interacting with you in that training session. While this can lead us to get stuck in the "paycheck" mentality, many dogs simply prefer working for their food because this meets a social need for connection with their favorite person. (The person with the food!)

Games & Exercises

Enrichment Ideas with Penny

Penny will show some short videos and photos of enrichment ideas in the video including several store bought puzzles and some cheap diy puzzles that are easy to assemble at home. But it's also important to note that not all dogs find the same things enriching. Most dogs will love licking, sniffing, chewing, and/or digging as general dog traits. Herding dogs might enjoy gathering treasures while hunting dogs might enjoy seeking and/or chasing games. Check out this blog link below to learn more about enrichment at the Yooper Paws website:

Mat & Crate Training with Cindy