Monday, June 16, 2014

Counting Threads

When a dog is experiencing high levels of stress and there is no escape route from that which is causing the stress the most effective method of calming the dog is movement. "Flight" as a response to stress and fear is the most common response in mammals. If you can get a dog moving away from that which he is adversely responding to, you end up with a calmer dog.

Do an experiment first before playing this game with your dog. Think of an incident that really stressed you or something that truly frightens you and feel which sets of muscles in your body respond. Generally it's your neck, shoulders, hands and mouth. For a dog it's the mouth, neck, shoulders, hips and spine. The mouth in case the dog needs to bite, the spine because it's the communication pathway to the legs and feet, and the rest to facilitate movement.

The game is all about movement.

Step one: Designate something as the "thing" that is scary. Make sure at first it's not really something your dog is afraid of. A tree stump works great.

Step two: With your dog on a leash move away from the scary thing. Walk anywhere from 5 to 10 feet away from the "thing".

Step three: Stop, but don't stop moving. Move in small circles and start pointing things out to your dog on the ground - leaves, rocks, dirt clumps, flowers - whatever is there, tiny to tall as long as it's on the ground. Babble at your dog while you're doing this "what's that", "look, a snail", anything, just keep talking.

Step four: While pointing things out start moving back towards the "thing" very slowly watching your dog for any signs of recognition that it "sees" the "thing". When you see this recognition, repeat step one. The signs could be a head turn away, licking the lips, sneezing, the ears flatten, the brow wrinkles, and since the thing in this case isn't scary you're going to see interest instead of anxiousness - a tail wag, moving forward or just a glance and a look away.

Step five: Continue the cycle of step one to four until there is no more response to the "thing".
This game also works when your dog starts "acting out" from boredom either on a walk, hiking or just hanging out while you are on your cell phone, reading your kindle or talking to your neighbor. Take two minutes to go "count some threads" and you'll have a happier dog who is more willing to hang out with you doing almost nothing.

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