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Training and (mild) anxiety


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About 3/4 of the way through class last night Cerb lost focus and started to get the "sfiffing zoomies". It was almost as if he was a bit overwhelmed, had ants in his pants and wanted to turn off what was happening in class and just concentrate on something he knows....stiffing and zooting. It took a bit of extra effort to get him to focus and he would quickly go back to the S&Z if I didn't stay completely engaged. Unfortunately, near the end of class I was spending my time calming him and would miss some of the instruction. It wasn't really overt or toxic, I could just tell he had reached the "jittery and giggly" stress level some kids get when they're a bit overwhelmed.

I was thinking of talking to the instructor and asking if we could back off a bit when he reached that level and work on the behaviors we missed before the next class. He's a very quick study and usually gets stuff on the first or second try (if he misses, I'm usually the one at fault), and once he knows the behavior, he seems more calm and confident with it and his concentration doesn't wonder.

 

How do you folks deal with the sniffing zoomies in a formal class setting?

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I deal by focusing on the stress levels, rather than the behavior. I ask myself the question, "what can I do to ease the stress and/or alleviate the anxiety?"

 

Going back to something he knows well would be a good thing to try. For some dogs, mixing in new things with behaviors that the dog already knows well helps the dog become more comfortable with the learning process in a given situation (Agility class).

 

Another approach you can take is to create a place where Cerb can have a bit of "down time" to regroup during class. For some dogs this can be a mat (as in Control Unleashed), for some it's a crate, for some it might be time in the car. If there is a place where Cerb is already naturally comfortable and will relax a bit, that's a bonus, but if not, you can condition relaxation. You might want to ask your instructor about that. If you can establish something like that, you can take Cerb to that spot whenever the sniffing and zoomies kick in. This is not a "time out", but an opportunity for the dog to "reset".

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What does your instructor sudjest??

 

All dogs have different ways of manifesting stress, especially in a highly distractable environment of classes/agility/obedience what not..the key is helping your dog manage and deal with this stress..you need to step up and be a leader for your dog......

 

The number one thing you DO NOT want to do it let these behaviors continue...you are reinforcing the behavior whether you are trying to or not by allowing it to happen...

 

 

I personaly want my dogs engaged on me and the task at hand %100 of the time I am working with them....I make training sessions short and fun when starting out a dog..not giving them an opportunity to be distracted...mix it up with play, a toy, food...if you are waiting your turn..work on some tricks or go over things your dog already knows..be exciting and fun for your dog...

 

With a young dog I will bring them out for short sessions and then crate in a quiet place to "re-boot"...I am ALWAYS trying to set my dogs up for success...and when you are starting out with a new/young dog it is crucial that they feel confident and are eager to work with you...

 

I teach specific "on" and "off" switches....

 

My down stay is a lifesaver, my default relax command, my "off" command...if you are waiting for something or are in the ring and can't give your dog %100 of your attention or are seeing some of the signs that your dog is ready for a break but you don't necessarily want to put them up....have a "get to your place" command which means literally lie down, your are not being asked to do anything right now, relax....Mine is just a simple down stay...I use this in relation to competition training/stockwork and pretty much anywhere...

 

As soon as they get a release and a "ready" command they know it's time to go!!

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I know I'm a broken record on the subject, but I feel that hour long group classes are incredibly stressful (or dull) for many beginner dogs. It's not just that we are requiring them to focus for a long period of time, but also because the handlers can't help but become disconnected from their dog while they try to wrap their head around concepts that are brand new to them. Beginner agility can be mentally exhausting for both the handler and the dog.

 

I always suggest that people bring crates for any down time, but I also know how difficult it is to actually do that in the average beginner class where you tend to cycle through stations to work on single pieces of equipment.

 

It could be that your dog only has the mental capacity to make it through part of the class. You may have to go through beginners twice in order to feel confident that your dog has the necessary skills, but you will advance faster if he is happy, confident & comfortable. Pushing him once he clearly says he has had enough will not help.

 

If they are available to you, private lessons would help a lot. For quite some time, I actually took one private (or semi-private) lesson in addition to a weekly group class. No matter how talented your dog is, I feel the average person will always feel like their dog is lagging in one area or another. Having the opportunity to work on those skills in a private setting helps you to advance so much faster. It also offers a better learning experience for the dog, as exercises are rapid (keeping their attention) and you are typically done in a much shorter time period.

 

If I had my druthers, all of my teaching would be via private or semi-private lessons -- But alas, that's not the business model of your typical dog training center because it doesn't bring in enough $$$.

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I know I'm a broken record on the subject, but I feel that hour long group classes are incredibly stressful (or dull) for many beginner dogs. It's not just that we are requiring them to focus for a long period of time, but also because the handlers can't help but become disconnected from their dog while they try to wrap their head around concepts that are brand new to them. Beginner agility can be mentally exhausting for both the handler and the dog.

 

 

Exactly. I think Cerb would react much more confidantly if I were able to give him 100% of my attention. I'm also sure that he picks up on the times when I'm not all together confidant myself. I'm going to e-mail the instructor tonight and talk to her about strategies to keep him calm and focused. I might buy one of the fabric pop up crates. Thanks, folks!

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Exactly. I think Cerb would react much more confidantly if I were able to give him 100% of my attention. I'm also sure that he picks up on the times when I'm not all together confidant myself. I'm going to e-mail the instructor tonight and talk to her about strategies to keep him calm and focused. I might buy one of the fabric pop up crates. Thanks, folks!

 

That is another advantage to having a "reset spot" like a mat, crate, or the car. There are times, especially when you are first learning, when you need to pay more attention to the instructor than your dog. And, in those instances, expecting the dog to just sit at attention and focus indefinitely can be extremely unrealistic - especially if the dog is already stressed. But, if your dog knows to relax and have "down time" on a mat, crate, in the car, or something similar, you can set your dog up to relax and do his own thing (you can even provide a stuffed kong or toy for those times) while you pay attention to the instructor.

 

Granted, it is possible to listen to instructions and keep focus on the dog. I had to learn to do it with Speedy. It took time since it was a skill that took practice to master. But I got there because I needed to. But my preference now with a dog who is showing signs of stress, is to provide the dog with a place to reset and relax, even if my focus is elsewhere.

 

If you do go with the fabric pop up crate, be sure to load it up as a rewarding place to be at home, possibly for a week or even two before brining it to class.

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When Brody and I first started classes, his focus was gone after about 45 minutes. When we first started trialing I only entered him 3 classes ( we where doing NADAC) now he can sit through a long class and manage all six classes at a day long trial without sniffing etc. Brody was 4 when we began classes but it still took time to build the mental stamina for a long class.

I would also add using a crate helps to give them a time out. It will also help get them used to the crate in those situations should you want to trial.

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