FAD3 - Day 3


FAD3 Day  3 - Thinking in Arousal

Navigating the Arousal Scale! 

Being able to adjust the arousal scale of your dog is important, especially if they go places with you or you have frequent guests. Your dog may become excited and have difficulty adjusting their enthusiasm to a more appropriate level. On the flip side your dog may be extremely relaxed and need to be energized before an activity.

Engaging the dog with a Start Button behavior, such as a nose target, that can be used to increase or decrease arousal level, by how it’s presented and rewarded. This is something Cindy frequently uses with Nick to “activate” him for specific tasks or to change his focus from a distraction. The key is to start with the energy level the dog is exhibiting and adjust the response with the energy used to present the cue. If Nick were resting and Cindy needed him to do something, she’d first ask for a calm hand target, then increase the energy in the cues until it reached the level she needed for the task. To increase energy in heeling, Cindy will ask Nick to jump up and touch her hand in heel, adjusting his arousal up. This would be a great place to reward with a high energy game of tug! In contrast, when Nick needs to be relaxed, such as a long down stay, Cindy will give the cues and rewards in a calmer, lower energy state. Calm petting, food catching, delivering food to the dog’s mouth would be more appropriate.

Ending a training session should always be fun, and with the next scheduled activity in mind. Nick’s obedience group ends the session with first a long sit stay for one to two minutes with the handlers at least six feet away, and a long down stay for three to five minutes, again with the handlers at least six feet away. This helps the dogs calm down after heeling exercises, jumping, and retrieving. Since this is an evening class, this helps the dogs settle for their car ride home and bed.

Arousal Up/Arousal Down

Starting with a calm dog and bringing their energy level up is as simple as increasing your energy level. A toy, such as a chaser or tug toy can be animated, with sound effects will really change your dog’s arousal level. A simple hand target that requires your dog to jump up to touch it will increase your dog’s arousal level. Treats presented to your dog in an open hand can be exciting for some dogs, like Labradors that LOVE to eat. For fussier breeds like Poodles, animating food by bowling it across the floor, tossing it away from the dog, or tossing it for the dog to catch will increase the value of the food. Nick isn’t very interested in food that’s given directly from Cindy’s hand, however, he LOVES to catch food that’s tossed to him and chase food that’s bowled out for him. Cindy uses these techniques to keep Nick interested in food rewards when toys and games are not an option.

When a dog is being extra fizzy, distracted and interested in things other than you, there are things that can be done to help them refocus on you. Nick loves to chase, that is his kryptonite. When he gets fizzy, Cindy will take a few quick steps in the opposite direction and get Nick to chase her, often bowling food or a toy out in front for him to get. A quick game of tug, then some calming hand targets redirects Nick’s attention back to Cindy while fulfilling Nick’s needs.

Setting up your dog for success is important. Teaching a new behavior or game should be done in a quiet, calm environment when possible, then gradually moved to more distracting situations. Nick was taught to catch food in Cindy’s living room before he learned to do it in other locations, first around her apartment complex, then on longer walks, and at other places. New games and behaviors require more concentration than well established behaviors, and are harder to do around distractions. Nick knows hand targets quite well and has been doing them since he was a puppy. Targeting a hand above his head is a new to him, so he has a harder time jumping up to touch Cindy’s hand. Cindy has been gradually asking for this behavior in more and more situations.

As your dog learns new games and behaviors, it’s important to set up predictable distractions in a controlled manner where the dog can understand and maintain focus. Gradually the level of distraction can be raised in a predictable manner as the dog can handle the distractions. Nick LOVES to chase balls, and other things that move fast! Gradually he has been exposed to more and more things of this nature, including heeling and recalling past a person playing with a cat chaser toy, two people playing catch with a ball, dogs recalling along side him, and dogs recalling in the opposite direction. This has been a long process with the help of others.

Training for Emergencies

Leave It is something that all dogs should learn, both as a default behavior and on cue for situations when the dog is interested in something that could be dangerous to them. We don’t want our dogs picking up food found on the ground, getting into things, or eating our food, unless we give it to them. Teaching leave it, as a default behavior , don’t take it unless it’s yours, and on cue “I know you’re interested in that, unfortunately, you can’t have that now.” Since Nick is a service dog, Cindy doesn’t want him sniffing things when working. Sniffing was put on cue, and leave it will stop Nick from sniffing.

Boundaries, mats, dog beds, and other designated places for the dog to relax, are helpful to keep a dog from getting in the way, keeping the dog calm when visitors arrive, or for the dog to wait while their handler does something else. Cindy and Nick take a Rally class every week. While Cindy walks the course and reads the signs, she’ll have Nick sit on the seat of her mobility scooter. This gives Nick a clear boundary of where he should be during the time Cindy walks the course, and keeps him away from the temptation to play with his friends.

Freeze, wait, and stop are cues that can be used to stop a dog from moving forward towards something dangerous. They can be used mid recall to stop a dog from crossing a dangerous area, to prevent a dog from pushing out the front or  car door, or to stop a dog from stepping into traffic. Cindy would often have Pau in the back yard while taking the trash bins out. Cindy would leave the gate open and tell Pau to wait, not cross the fence line while Cindy took the trash bins to the curb or brought them in.  This made the task easier while keeping Pau safe from vehicles. 

Enjoy the games from Day 3

Game 1:  Catch Me If You Can

Game 2:  Ready, Set Go