Sunday, March 18, 2012

Philosophy of Behavior Training - Awareness

Awareness is all about communication, living in the moment with your dog and observing the obvious. You, as the owner / trainer / guardian / handler are the expert in the partnership between you and your dog. You have the awareness and understanding to bridge the gap between species, your dog has the instinctive knowingness of nature and the energy flows that connect us all.

Life is a game. Games have rules, they have boundaries, they have freedoms and games have limitations. When you can balance the parts of the game, when you understand all the parts of the game, you win; when you can't balance the barriers and freedoms, the rules and limitations, you end up playing a broken record of stress, pain and fear. The purpose of education, training, behavior change and play is to enhance an individuals ability to play the game of life. It matters not whether that individual is a primate, a canine, a feline or an equine; it matters not what the freedoms, barriers and purposes of each particular game is, so long as one becomes aware of and can manipulate the parts of the game in order to create a smooth playing field.

A dog, or a human, will react adversely over time to a trauma that is unexpected, unpreditable and at odds with previous experience in that arena. For instance, you take your dog to the dog park every other day for several months with little to no incidents. The people are great, the dogs are mostly behaved and only one or two play a bit rough but they are easily redirected to chasing a ball or frisbee. Then one day, one of the regular dogs, or a new dog, attacks your dog. It doesn't matter what the reason is, it was unpredictable, unexpected and so not like the normal state of things in that dog park. It doesn't even have to be a vicious attack, no blood needs to be shed, just the surprise and the unpredictability of the attack could, depending on your dogs' state of mind at the time, set him up for fear. Fear of the dog park, fear of that dog, fear of dogs of that type or fear of whatever it was he had his attention on when the attack occurred.

Brynda, my boxer mix, is afraid of balls being kicked or thrown. She will chase them and chew on them and even fetch occassionally, but she will make sure she is not in any possible path of a thrown or kicked ball. This all started when she was about 8 months old, the first time she went running after Ruth to see what it was that Ruth was chasing. Ruth always led out and then I would throw the ball with the chuck-it. Brynda moved right into the path of the ball and got smacked. Since that time, she's probably gotten smacked a dozen times, but it was the second time she got smacked that she started shying away whenever she would see Ruth head out for the ball to be thrown.

So one of two things can happen, either the trauma is severe enough to cause an instant fear, or it builds over a succession of minor trauma's until the fear is as intense as the instant trauma. What has happened is that the dog has lost confidence in her ability to manipulate the environment, to predict the future and to avoid pain. In essense, she has moved away from reality and sees only the potential for more trauma. Eventually, that potential becomes so real that the dog either starts fighting back to prevent the pain or flees. Flight doesn't have to be physical movement away, it can also be the consciousness and thinkingness of the dog that flees - shutdown, no focus, no engagement, no interest. It becomes the elephant in the room phenomena and occassionally the dog will lash out and then settle into pseudo catatonia again.


As I'm writing this, I have one dog who I have been working with for 3 months in this state of pseudo catatonia with unpredictable violent and electrifying outbursts, but only when he is on a leash. Take him off the leash and he is fine. He has come along way since we started as you can see in the picture to the left. But the outbursts and the need to chase the scary things away is still there. He is progressing faster now and we are just starting this phase - awareness.

In "Attention" you encouraged your dog to focus on you as the source of the good and necessary things in life. In "Alignment" you showed your dog that she could be directed by you without fear and that by following your direction she could reduce her current fears. Now, with "Awareness", your dog will learn that she can communicate with the environment, be aware of the reality of her environment without fear, and start to relax in the face of her fears. This level of rehabilitation is all about communication, for by communicating with other dogs, humans, objects and spaces, a fearful dog can start again to play the game of life, relearn the rules, rediscover the boundaries and freedoms and understand the limitations.

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