Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Coddling and Cuddling

We are very often asked for our help with shy, fearful dogs, and when I ask the families of these such dogs, what they have done in the past to help their dogs cope better in situations that poise their dogs to act fearful, frequently I hear, well I just ignore him.

I also, very frequently hear, well I wait for him to calm down, and then I remove him from that situation by walking away or the opposite direction.

It is quite unfortunate that the advice these dog parents receive is frequently ignoring the dog, purely on the basis of relationship development and trust.

There are two components of the dog's brain we must deal with. One, its ability to regain itself, once its emotional response to whatever the stimulus is that triggered that startle or fear, then you can tackle the coping and learning part, when your dog has had its moment and is now willing to learn.

Here is an example. In our PRE K9 classes (only open to puppies between 8-16 weeks of age), our puppies are put through many different mild stress induced activities such as balancing on a Pilate's ball, walking on a wobbly bridge, walking up and down an inclined ramp, meeting other dogs (of all sizes), going into the pool etc. For many puppies, their initial reaction to these stimuli's is the emotion of fear, we call the behavior fight because the don't get to escape (let's not get argumentative or technical on this for now).

So for example a dog's first experience in the pool. We will accompany the dog into the pool, holding the puppy very close to our chest, embracing it, coddling it and comforting it, as we walk to the opposite end of the pool. We then release our embrace, holding the puppy above the water using our arms under the dog (if needed) while the puppy's only mission is to get back to the front of the pool where the puppy entered in. Whenever the dog panics or reaches a mental state in which the puppy is not willing to learn and engage its mind, we hold and embrace, giving the puppy some time to recover from the stress of panic to the point of being open to try again.

Within minutes the puppy has build the courage to try on its own, and follows us around the pool. Now, we are ready to teach the puppy how to exit the pool.

Contrary is: puppy is put into the pool, puppy freaks out and you direct it to the steps and let it escape. There is no learning in this process at all, and in fact, you are building fear in a dog.

Coddling and Cuddling work very well, as long as you follow through by allowing your dog to learn to cope and engage its mind to its actions.

(By the way, the example I used above is not the manner in which we approach every situation) I was merely attempting to emphasize the importance of support that can take place through comfort.

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