You Gotta Have Faith - Part 2
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Have you met Faith? If not, you should go back and read last week’s blog post.
Last week I promised we’d get into the details of Faith’s training plan, so here it goes!
Anytime I start working with a new dog, my first question is always “Are their physical, mental, and emotional needs being met?”. In my experience, a lot of behaviors minimize when these three things are being met, which then makes our jobs as trainers a whole lot easier (not to mention the pups are happier). So let’s break these down one at a time for a minute.
Physical Needs - Faith is a BC mix, so right off the bat I expect her needs for physical exercise are more similar to those of Fin than Riley.
Mental Needs - also frequently called enrichment. I’m super passionate about this one, so I’ll have to do a whole other blog post to cover it, but the Cliff’s Notes version is: dogs need to be stimulated mentally in order to thrive.
Emotional Needs - knowing that Faith has spent time in a shelter and bounced around from place to place, I need to approach her with patience and empathy, and modulate my expectations.
So what was my plan to accomplish all this? Well, Physical Needs were pretty easy, I just rolled her into the same exercise plan Fin is currently on, making sure she got ample walks, and was able to blow off steam running around the yard. So we can check that box. Emotional Needs was also fairly simple because it’s more about me and my mindset. I just brought a mindset of patience and empathy / compassion to every interaction with her. Were there times I was frustrated? You bet! I am human after all. But when I could feel the frustration building, I would take a step back, take a breath, and remind myself where this dog came from. Then usually she would do something totally cute and all of a sudden everything was forgiven. As dog trainers, we need to be self aware enough to realize our own emotions during a training session, and to stop the session if these emotions are impeding our ability to train effectively (yes I know, easier said than done, especially since I am the “one more try” queen!).
So we’ve checked the boxes on Physical and Emotional Needs, which leaves us with mental. As I said, this is going to be a whole separate blog post (tune in next week!), but mental needs are where I get to be creative. Right off the bat, I switched her to eating out of a puzzle toy instead of a bowl. My favorite option is the Kong Gyro, in fact I like it so much I ordered 5 of them for my friends at the Humane Society of Westchester at New Rochelle! The large sized toy is big enough to hold a full cup of kibble (or 1 meal for a Faith sized dog), and it is easy enough for most dogs to figure out without a lot of build up. To avoid creating any food aggression, I gave her this toy in her crate, so now we’re also building positive crate relations. And finally, I can give it to her as part of my leaving routine, so she is happily distracted when I leave and we don’t get any separation anxiety issues. See how cool that is! I just solved 3 problems (mental stimulation, positive crate associations, separation anxiety) with 1 easy step! This is why I love enrichment :)
So now that we have our happy dogs who’s needs are being met, I wanted to focus in on giving Faith skills that would make her a wonderful companion. The Agility stuff is super fun, and yes I’d love for her to go to a sport home, but in reality your dog lives with you 24 hours a day; you only do Agility for maybe 1 hour (if you’re lucky). My top behaviors for Faith were as follows:
Walking nicely on leash - since she needs a BC amount of exercise this was big! I worked to teach her to stay in a reinforcement zone at my side for short stints, but also allowed her plenty of time to sniff and amble at her pace (remember sniffing = mental stimulation). The key to this one is to make it very clear when the dog should be walking nicely, and when they should be sniffing. I change the leash length and speed of my pace, and also release my dogs with a verbal cue (all done, shoo, ok, etc.).
Stationary behaviors - this concept eventually builds into stays and helps with impulse control. From a safety perspective, a dog that can’t stay is always in danger of darting out of a door, or bolting if you accidentally drop the leash. My favorite method for this is the Rapid Fire Cookie Game, or basically reinforcing the dog in a sit so quickly that they don’t have time to break.
Cooperative Husbandry - this is basically creating a dog that enjoys routine tasks like getting their nails done. Faith already had a solid foundation here, so my goal was to use treats to formally reinforce that and set any future owner up for success.
These life skills will help Faith be successful in whatever home she goes into, and of course this girl is so smart she totally rocked them!
So what’s next for Faith? She has a few very promising applications, so keep your fingers crossed and let’s hope something works out!