Today, we started working on the ‘go-to-your-basket’ exercise, on the request of the dog’s owner.
Easy – peasy, right? Not so much in this case, because there’s a twist. The dog in question has Generalized Anxiety, and one of the symptoms is neophobia (fear of unfamiliar situations, persons, animals, locations and objects).
How do we do that, then? With a dog who is too scared of us for us to get anything done when we’re in the same room?
The answer is: we use zoo animal training techniques; techniques to get these animals to collaborate with care protocols without fear or intimidation. Protocols like collaborating with a blood draw by positioning their body (parts) just on the right spot to help with the operation.
Today, we taught the owner the basics of SATS: give your dog colder/warmer-type feedback on how close they are to what you want. You do this by making a ‘bridging signal’, a constantly repeating sound like ‘tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat’ as long as the animal is headed in the right direction. When the animal ‘errs’, you stop making the sound until he stumbles on the right track again.
The beauty of it is that it takes away a lot of the guessing of ‘shaping’ and guessing is the sworn enemy of anxious dogs.
Once the animal has reached your training ambition (in our case, to touch the little ball at the end of the target stick with his nose), the dog hears his clicker word and gets a treat.
You go on like this until the dog is confidently and durably touching the ball on command. Then, all you have to do, is bring the stick with the ball to where you want the animal to go (in our case, the back of his crate). As with everything, you need to build duration and intensity (how deep you into the crate you put the ball) to the dog’s emotional and training level.
The boy did great!