FAD3 - Day 2

FAD3 Day 2 - Too Low Arousal

Yesterday we learned a lot about high arousal. Today we are going to learn about low arousal. Many of us spend lots of time learning how to teach our dogs to be calm and learn to lower their arousal. But sometimes low arousal causes problems too.

In today's video we talk about many of the challenges that can come with low arousal. This can include lack of engagement during training sessions, difficulty finding reinforcement that works for the individual dog, and sometimes even getting the dog to do simple behaviors.

It's important to note that it's easy to confuse being calm with a low arousal state with being in a fearful freeze state. Both calm & freeze states have very little or small body movements. Both almost look as though time has slowed down or even stopped. Micro-signals for each individual dog become very important in helping owners recognize the difference.

Building Arousal with Reinforcement

One of the most commonly used methods of building arousal is using a higher value reinforcer. A dog may not want to get off the couch for a milk bone, but will gladly do a bit of work for some cheeseburger. As a human, I'm only mildly interested in slice of pie but I'm more motivated by a piece of cake and even more motivation if the cake is chocolate! Knowing what your dog loves can really help.

While it's easier for us to reach for higher value food reinforcers, sometimes food simply isn't rewarding to some dogs. Many trainers switch to toys for motivation which is only slightly harder to deliver than food. Azul is extremely hard to motivate so I've really learned a lot about functional reinforcement. This involves figuring out what the dog really wants and figuring out how to deliver that reinforcement. Azul is highly motivated by scents and social interactions. He loves meeting new people and sniffing their shoes! It took some trial and error, but I eventually learned how to use this to increase Azul's focus on me.

It's also important to look at each individual dog’s needs if we want to impact their arousal. A dog that is hungry is going to be more motivated by food. A dog that doesn't feel safe is not going to very motivated. A dog that needs something basic like using the bathroom is often going to seem less motivated. If you're struggling to motivate your dog, take a look at what your dog might need. Azul is always easier to motivate following a sniff-a-bout then he is if we've had a boring day.

Human Impact on Arousal

We know that how the human caretaker feels is going to travel down the leash impacting the dog. When we see something that commonly causes our dog stress, it's common to accidentally put tension on the leash. This can cause the dog to tense up and scan the environment to see what just scared their human. If negative emotions can travel to the dog, then positive emotions must carry over as well.

Positive emotions are generally anything that makes an individual feel good; feeling safe, calm & happy. We all seek out things that make us feel good. Negative emotions are anything that makes and individual feel bad, often causing us to avoid whatever is making us feel bad.

As humans, we can often try to stay positive, finding the good in things that may stir up negative emotions. While dogs may not have the same drive to remain rational, there is evidence to suggest that some dogs carry a more positive or optimistic lifestyle while others seem to be more negative or pessimistic much of the time. Positive reinforcement training often helps dogs with a feeling of optimism, while punishment based training styles often create pessimistic dogs.

By nature, dogs are social creatures so if they've bonded with humans, caregivers are able to have a large impact on their dog’s emotional mood state. Sometimes all it takes to get our dog excited is to be excited ourselves. If we play something fun our dog loves, it's likely to make us laugh which leads both the human and the dog to a happier mood start. If you're struggling with a dog with lower arousal, try playing a fun game before training something new.

We can increase our dog’s feeling of happiness by adding more time doing activities together that our dog loves. Positive reinforcement often falls into this category along with any special activities between 2 bonded individuals. Sometimes just looking each other in the eye and smiling can lift someone’s spirits.

Azul doesn't really like having his paws groomed. By doing so, I cause him to express negative behaviors. I try to balance this act of care with a follow up activity that makes Azul feel good; belly rubs, sniff-a-bouts, chasing his flirt poles. This helps to keep Azul return to a positive mood state much more rapidly.

Enjoy the games from Day 2!

Game 1: Movement Puzzles

Game 2:  Mani/Petti Games Nail Trim with Pau & Bottom Trip with Nick