Monday, May 11, 2009

A dog training question

"A search and rescue handler and dog team that has been performing fairly well in training, even with some blind (they don't know where the subject/article is) problems is ready to do a formal evaluation. They feel ready, but they have test anxiety anyhow. Unfortunately now, so does their dog. The dog will literally start barfing because of stress (handler is working hard to control their own stress, but having a barfing dog doesn't help). No leashes are used, but we all know the leash doesn't matter that much anyhow as the invisible ones are just as taut as the actual leashes :). The test must be called off because the dog just shuts down. The handler does not use aversive training methods either. It seems to simply be test anxiety. I know the handler works hard to stay calm during an eval and even seems to be ok, but how do we make them calmer so the dog feels it too?"

My answer:

Can the handler do a couple of mock tests running someone else's already certified dog?

In another life, I spent 20 years as a Junior Olympic boxing coach, judge and referee. "Choking" was a common problem with my young athletes so we put in a lot of time working on mental toughness.

Mental toughness, by definition, toughness is "to be strong and resilient; able to withstand great strain without tearing or breaking. It is "between the ears" toughness. Mental toughness is skill.

Try the book "That Winning Feeling" by Jane Savoie which has helped lots of people who compete with their dogs. And even better book is "The New Toughness Training for Sports" by James E. Loehr.

Can you get the handler to learn to meditate? Various forms of meditation have been used for thousands of years for almost any purpose you can fathom, including reduction of stress, enhanced mental clarity, and simple relaxation.

Can you get the handler to learn to visualize?

Can you get the handler to over prepare? There should be nothing new on test day.

Can training days be varied, different, more stressful? Just as progression is an important part of training, applying any challenging stimulus to the handler's life will give the handler a greater ability to handle stress of all kinds. It would go a long way towards teaching the handler problem-solving skills and critical thinking, both of which can help the handler tough out any number of situations.

Can the handler teach the dog some stress relieving tricks to do as they warm up for the search?

Can you put a calming word into the dog and handler's training vocabulary? Get the handler to use it frequently at home when everything is relaxed and safe. The use it out and about, during trainings, until the dog realizes that it is the cue that everything is fine. (I sing happy birthday to my reactive GSD, Blue.) This can be a great tool when the handler is pushed to work a stressful area, as the dog can be reassured. (And I personally find it hard to be stressed while signing something as silly as happy birthday.)

Can the handler learn doggy calming signals and mimic them for the dog?

Can you find a way to turn the stress signals that the handler throws in to a cue for calm for the dog?

1 comment:

  1. I trained myself to a conditioned relaxer with the horses. When I first started to ride Paige, she tended to spook and be unsure of herself. It was never a bolt/spook, but a spook-in-place. I took a deep breath, then exhaled completely and deliberately and consciously relaxed my shoulders. Over the last 1.5 years, it has become a conditioned relax response.

    I'd also teach a conditioned relax touch to the dog.