Monday, November 11, 2013

14 Months: Training - Days 210 - 214

Emma enjoys resting in my chair.
There is a fine balance I must maintain to keep Emma moving forward and not shutting down.  She's very soft and very sensitive to body pressure and emotions.  She reads humans better than most dogs and is very sensitive to people leaning over her.  When I stand up from my chair she jumps to get out of my way, even if she is 10 feet away - very sensitive.

I have Borderline Personality Disorder, which means my temper must be managed by a series of self calming techniques I have learned over the years.  It's manageable, but I do have to take breaks when I am overwhelmed by something and this week was one of those weeks that for the benefit of the dogs my taking a break was the best training plan.

Emma has a habit of lowering her head and looking like she's about to be beaten when she is trying to make up to me when I am in a sour mood.  When I have a BPD flare this can make it worse, so when I feel that coming on I tend to find ways to cheer her up and bring her bouncy into play and build her confidence.  It works for both of us very well and she comes out the end of the week a happier and more confident dog.  This week I was also running on no battery charge in my own personal battery cells.  This is not a good combination, so I made the choice to just love Emma and let her learn needed calm behaviors in the house and not worry about task training or basic skill training.

There is no breakdown by day this time.  I spent the entire week working on calm behaviors, such as relaxing in the house and not starting bitey face games with Jack or Malcolm or walking out the door instead of launching like a race horse.

I spent large portions of the week just holding her or letting her know that she was okay, but I didn't want her in my lap just that moment.  She was put on the floor if she just launched into my lap and didn't get permission to be on it and reassured that the world had not ended just because I wanted space and time without a dog touching me.

I spent time playing with Malcolm and creating a bond with him, but ensuring her that she wasn't replaced or forgotten.  I didn't get any phone calls or paperwork done, but I did see her mood improve day by day.

She started the week happy to see me, but the first time I called to Malcolm to stop pestering Dieter and asked Jack to give me space to move (Jack was hovering) I saw her flinch and go hide behind my chair.  This saddened me.  She had been doing so good dealing with stress and was having a bad week on Monday.  I called her to me and gave her reassurance she was okay, but she went into massive appeasement dances and I knew then she was feeling a bit left out with Malcolm in the house.  It was then I decided what she needed most was reassurance she was still loved and welcome.

With Jack hovering (he is also sensitive) and Max pushing in to get attention and Malcolm pushing in to get attention and Dieter in a bad mood I could understand why Emma was feeling insecure, so I made the choice to help her deal with the stress and not add onto it with formal training.

When I let her outside I held her collar until she walked over the threshold and then gave me attention before sending her off to play.  When she came up to me I clearly told her if she could or couldn't get into my lap.  It was more of a reminder that Crazy Wild Emma was not the Emma that lived in the house and Calm Emma got lots of rewards - which for her is affection and attention.

I have previously reported that Emma started chewing on inappropriate items when left loose in my house.  This is called regression and it could be related to Malcolm coming into the family or it could be related to the fact she's entering her final major fear period.  It could be a combination, but I had expected the regression and knew that a few setbacks would occur.  Her 6 to 12 month period of life was a rough one for both of us, with her weathering a major fear period on the cusp of panic somedays.  I am hoping this one won't be as bad, but it will be a challenge to balance training with building a solid emotional foundation.

She ended the week flying through my yard in utter joy of living.  It was a pleasure to see.  I had taken her and Malcolm out alone to play.  They were playing tag and Emma got the rips and just ran, like a gazelle, through the yard as fast as she could go with a huge smile on her face.  The joy wasn't just in her eyes or her face, but in her whole body.  Emma was enjoying breathing and running and just being Emma.  It was beautiful to watch.

She had learned to get praise she just needed to move away from Malcolm when he tried to start play in the house with her and come to me.  It boosted her confidence that she learned what I wanted and could provide it.

She is a highly excitable dog and teaching her calm is very important.  When she's at her worst is when she needs the skills I am teaching her the most.  She can go from thinking to not thinking in 2.5 seconds and stay stuck in the heightened excitement stage for a long time.  Teaching her self calming skills will slowly decrease her excitability and increase her ability to know what to do in any situation - and that is a skill she'll need as a working dog.

So, no Levels or Task work this week.  No updates on her Levels progress.  No amazing stories of things she's picked up or break throughs she's made.  Just an update on how Emma is doing emotionally and how as her trainer I put her emotional health ahead of her goal to become a service dog - in the end, Emma must be happy doing her job or she'll become fearful, sad and withdrawn and that is the last thing I want to see happen to her.

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