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Saturday, June 29, 2013


I have screwed up how I’ve handled Gimme’s issues in class.  Its hard when you have to make all the mistakes yourself so you can learn from them.  <sigh>

In Thurs classes, Gimme starts out fine, but then she gets into a frantic feeding frenzy, with dilated pupils!  I've been trying to use metronome feeding when that happens, but she continues and gets worse.  Thursday night was the worst. I had noticed 4 months ago that our Relaxation Protocol work was deteriorating, so the beginnings predate her season and false pregnancy.

Urs thinks I'm contributing to Gimme's frantic behavior and even the way I give her treats is a factor.  She suggested placing the treats, one at a time with two fingers, into her mouth - instead of letting her nibble them out of my fingers.  I did that and it helped; I think it makes it clearer how many treats she is getting for a reward. I spent the last half of class just sitting on the floor with Gimme, giving her one treat on her matt for shutting her mouth or taking a breath (without clicker) and using petting whenever she was relatively calm.  That also helped. 

I was so frustrated that I could have cried when I got home.  I tried to schedule a private lesson with Ursula to get her insights into what I’m doing wrong, but the timing couldn’t be worse coming into the 4th of July week.  So I’ve been talking over the situation with Kathy and Candy; they’ve helped me to analyze what was happening.

I had noticed that I could train her tricks non-stop during class and she'd do them or try, but she just can't get herself calm.  Still even during tricks training she is more distracted and not herself.  After thinking about and discussing the history, I’ve concluded some things are combining to create this problem.   Here’s my thoughts:
  • When I was trying to use RP outside agility class this year, I made too big of a jump from where we’d been the year before to where we started this year, so I undid the matt’s association with calm and safe.
  • When she was in her false pregnancy, I may have fed into it by trying to use food to calm her down during classes and not using distance enough.
  • Possibly I’ve been misjudging her state of mind - thinking she was too close to threshold, so I switched to classical conditioning when she was still operant.  As a result, I unintentionally taught her to "act overwrought" for all the rewards it gets her.  Of course, how you act quickly becomes how you feel - hence the dilated pupils.
Since then I have taken her for two rest-and-walks around Capitol Lake.  The first time I started on the Capitol Campus with 15 minutes of hanging out.  She did well, though it took awhile to get the idea that nothing was going to happen.  It occurs to me that we often meet Mary and Grafton there, so she was expecting them.  We left after she was consistently relaxing, which means calmly watching all the different things going on.  I gave her about ten treats during that time, when I saw especially nice stuff, like rolling on one hip or taking a deeper breath.

Then we moved down to the lake where we'd walk about 100 yards and then stop and sit for five minutes.  After we got halfway around the lake, then we just walked the rest without stopping.  She quickly figured out that when Mom sits, Gimme might as well chill, cuz ain't nothing gonna happen.

I did notice her look-at-that behavior ("whazzat") was broken.  Almost every dog she saw she couldn't look away from.  So I had to add a lot more distance and refresh her brain on how we do that.  Clearly I let her get re-sensitized from not managing space better during the intensity of classes.  Bad me!

Today we walked around the lake again and she did even better, relaxing quickly each time.  When I stopped to talk to people, she laid down and stretched out.  I can't remember her ever voluntarily laying down while I was still standing up - huge progress.  She even laid down while I was talking to a lady with a very small dog about 10 feet away.

Much of the time I'm petting her as the reward for relaxing and only giving her the occasional treat for the best signs of relaxation.  I think that makes a difference.  While she enjoys the "freebies", she isn't getting into work mode.  I'm pondering doing Relaxation Protocol without treats, using petting instead.  Gimme is very tactile, so perhaps that will work better and keep her from going into work mode.

I got smarter and used peanut butter today, so got better "whazzat", but she's still more inclined to get stuck looking than she has in the past.  The cheese just wasn't enough reward for her to work through it, which tells me her threshold has grown greatly.  Before 8 feet was pretty common, and now its 20.  If it is dog types that she especially dislikes (ones that look intently at her, pull toward her or bark) then she needs 35-40 feet.  Yikes!  That's a big loss and one we'll have to do a lot of work to recover ground.  I'm sure we'll get it back, but it will take time.

Her LLW was good both days, especially today.  It takes reminders, but then she gets into the rhythm and is going really long distances.  I started counting, but stopped when we hit 60 steps.  She was also adjusting her pace on her own after lightly bumping into the end of the leash.

Yesterday and today I only occasionally used treats for the LLW, instead relying mostly on the functional reward of moving forward.  If she was hovering at the end of the leash, I just slowed down and that was enough to remind her.  If she actually pulled then I'd stop and only continue when she was back beside me.  If she didn’t come back beside me, I'd back-pedal 5-10 steps. I consider this a step forward.  I think its better to get more and more behaviors on life rewards.

Kathy suggested I train Gimme through Susan Garrett’s crate games because she’s seen it to have a calming affect on dogs.  Fortunately my friend Chris has that DVD so I can borrow it.  It also occurs to me I need to watch my Control Unleashed DVD set... it has some rev-up-settle-down games that might be helpful for Gimme.

The trick will be transferring this to classes and will very much depend on managing space much better than I've done.  I need to set up so she can deal with the chaos successfully and feel good about the experience.  There are two cubicles that will give us more flexibility and options, so I’ll talk to Ursula about making sure we get one or the other.  One has an outside door so we can always go outside to take a break.  The other is at the foot of the stairs and we could go up to the landing for more space.

Kathy also suggested creating a calming association with the smell of lavender where she sleeps, which I can then spritz on her matt.  Initially I thought of both the bed and the couch, but with it being warmer, the door is open to outside.  Last night I noticed she alerted a couple of times to noises outside and alarm barked once, so I will stick with bed only since she snoozes through the night there.  I love lavender so have a lot of it and can make sachets for the bed and have a perfume that I can use on her bed.

I still feel very bad that I failed my precious darling.  But at least I now have a plan and am optimistic that we can recover lost ground and get over this hump. 

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