Sunday, October 16, 2016

Using Play to Gauge Stress and a Week 5 Update

Ida loves to play at home.  She chases anything thrown (from balls to cow hoofs), she tugs, she fetches, she wrestles.  But, despite being full of play at home, she's never really been playful (with people) outside of home, even in familiar places like the park or the office at the shelter.  A few months ago, I came to the realisation that it was probably stress dampening her spirit, and I gave up on using play in class.

At the same time, I switched to using play as a gauge for her stress levels while working on her traffic sensitivity.  We start in the front yard and have been moving further and further away from the house and when she starts hesitating when taking the tug, or starts mouthing it but not tugging, or not bring it back the frisbee, I switch to food.

I think this has had the biggest impact on our progress so far.  For one, it's given me a more nuanced read on her stress levels than what I've gotten from food in the past.  For another, I think it is helping her learn how to "work" in environments where she might not be 100% comfortable, or where there are potentially scary things.

It has totally paid off.  She has already come such a huge way in the 6 or so weeks that we've been working on reducing her stress outside of the home.  We're not done, by any means, but this week, for the first time since she was a baby puppy, she took a toy and played tug in class.  She also did not make any escape attempts, even at her first run.  And if that wasn't good enough?  She got a case of zoomies in the middle of her second run.  Not enough to go off course, but she got all bouncy and frolicky and actually looked like she was having fun.

I am really astounded at the change that I've seen in the past 6 weeks, and I have lots of hope that she's going to continue getting better.

This last week Ida and I... 

.... continued our work in the front yard, although the early snowfall precipitated a change in equipment as Ida wasn't so enthusiastic about shoving her face in show to retrieve the frisbee as she was chasing it.  We switched to a fleece tug toy and continued watching the neighbors drive in and out of the cul-de-sac.  Ida even watched the neighbor kids play street hockey, which normally would've caused her to bark because exciting things were happening.

... played It's Yer Choice/Leave It games with a chicken bone that Ida found beside our driveway.  Getting it away from her wasn't a problem (she happily traded it for a bit of cheese), but she took a bit of convincing to leave it alone when it was just sitting there in the open on the drive way.  Oh well! It was a fun bit of impromptu work in a distracting environment.

... used running as a reward; when a scary truck drove past the cul-de-sac right as I ran out of treats, and she stayed with me instead of trying to pull for home, we raced back to the driveway as a reward.

... didn't drive anywhere except to agility class.

I noticed...

... she may have developed a negative CER to the thundershirt.  When I put it on, she started shaking in the car immediately.  I am not sure, however, it the shaking was because the car was cold.

... that her shaking in the car didn't seem to affect her performance at agility!

This next week I plan to...

... keep on keepin' on.  The not driving, playing tug in the lawn, and