Thursday, April 23, 2015

Ziggy Tango

Today's dog training session was more than your typical obedience session. Just about anyone can train a dog to sit or stay but what happens when the dog in question knows all the basic behaviors? What happens when the dog at hand has an emotional issue? How do you train away an emotional response that then leads to physical issues?


Per Wikipedia, desensitization is defined as the diminished emotional responsiveness to a negative or aversive stimulus after repeated exposure to it. It also occurs when an emotional response is repeatedly evoked in situations in which the action tendency that is associated with the emotion proves irrelevant or unnecessary. Desensitization is a process primarily used to assist individuals unlearn phobias and anxieties. 

Desensitizing a dog to the car was on the agenda for today's lesson. It's not easy, and takes a lot of patience but is amazing when you see the work pay off. At the top of the hour long lesson, Ziggy the dog put on the brakes and would not walk near her owner's car. The closest she would allow herself to the vehicle was about 6 feet. After many walks by the car, away from the car, ignoring the car, jiggling of door handles without getting in the car, being picked up and put back down near the car, and lots of treats later Ziggy, while still not in love with the car, willingly put her front feet on the car door threshold as if to jump in. In case you don't recognize it, that's huge progress in the dog training world.

You might ask, how big is Ziggy? Why not just pick the dog up and put it in the car. Sure, you can go that route, but it doesn't change or help the dog. What we are actually working on is a therapy of sorts to get the dog's emotional response to change, not overpower it and bend it to our will. So often as humans we want the instant fixes and don't respect the relationship with our animals. We want an obedient animal, and the thing is, Ziggy is obedient. Most dogs are. When a dog doesn't "behave" as we wish it to, 9 times out of 10 I can say it's due to lack of training and understanding what it is we have actually taught our dogs to do. 

Next time you start to pull on your dog's leash to drag them somewhere, or loose your patience with them for something they're not doing, take a deep breath and think about what is actually going on. Your dog is not doing "it" to spite you, rather, they need more assurance and direction from you. Treat the relationship with your dog like that you would of a dance partner; lead the way, offer support and don't step on their toes! Tango on my friends. 

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