Training Tales - A Progress Report for Peanut Butter

by Tim Wheeler, LDDR volunteer

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Today I took my new training partner, Peanut Butter, on a training walk for some bonding time. Before going out I talked with Chelsea Campbell of Beyond The Bark to make sure I was aware of Peanut's sensitivities and what the goals for our time together should be. Peanut is sensitive to human strangers, other dogs, and sounds. All of these stresses can be overwhelming, especially in an environment like a kennel. So the general training goal is, as always, to keep Peanut below her threshold level of stress and able to focus on making positive associations with things that would otherwise cause her to be fearful.

You might be wondering why it is important to keep the stress level low. I will use the examples given by Temple Grandin in her book "Animals Make Us Human". Animals naturally have a curiosity about their environment, or what she calls a SEEKING behavior, where their curiosity takes over. While the SEEKING behavior is engaged, the FEAR system will be inhibited. Being in the SEEKING mode allows animals to make positive associations with both the trainer and the training experience, a very good thing. So, for training purposes, it is vitally important to keep the animal calm, not straining on the leash, and actively engaging their seeking behaviors. Easy, right?

So off we go, walking down Executive Drive next to Healthy Paws, Peanut, me, and a training pouch filled with hot dogs and other dog necessaries. Peanut is geeked to be out of the boarding kennel, her stresses are melting away, draining a little more every time she sniffs interesting smells. You go, girl! In regard to actual training, I am asking nothing of Peanut at this point, just letting her calm herself by doing what dogs do naturally, exploring their environment.

At times I notice that Peanut is watching cars and pinning her ears back. I am wondering if it is the movement or sound of vehicles driving by sporadically that has her bothered. Strategically, we move away from the street, aiming at keeping the stress level low. I am still not asking her for any type of obedience but occasionally I do try to redirect her attention to me and offer some yummy hot dogs. Peanut is not interested; she is too busy being a dog, investigating smells, watching people and cars driving by. We understand each other.

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I am fairly certain Peanut must have aspirations to be a gardener. She absolutely loves to dethatch the grass and scrape the ground with her paws. There were a couple of times she had grass flying all around me as she spread her scent with her paws. One of the reasons dogs likely do this is that they have scent glands on their paws and it is just one more way they communicate to other animals saying "I was here".

We reach the halfway point of our walk and turn around. Because time is short I decide to start working specifically on loose leash walking. Peanut is excited and a little nervous as she stretches out the leash to full length. This is not a bad thing, her SEEKING behavior is engaged, and she is ready to learn. I am making the kissing sound and she turns around to look. Immediately I drop down a bit and offer a fistful of hot dogs. "HOT DOGS, YES!" Good girl Peanut, "let's go" and off we go. Cars are driving by, people appear at doorways, and Peanut is at the end of the leash. Again, the kissing sound and Peanut responds by turning to me "YES" and she is presented with a fistful of hot dogs. She is making a choice, she is able to think instead of just reacting or being fearful, she is SEEKING. "Let's go." We practice this over and over, building our bond, putting money in the Bank of Mutual Trust. We are pausing; I am redirecting attention, and reinforcing her when she returns to me by giving her food. All is good as we return to the kennel.

You did great today Peanut!

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