Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Training Tuesday: The “Good Lord Why Did I Decide to Do This?” Edition

Maisy and Malcolm doing the relaxation protocol.

It has been two weeks since I instituted the “no more trials until I finish the relaxation protocol” rule, and as predicted, I’m hating myself already. (Actually, I started hating myself a week ago, but whatever.) Thankfully, I posted it quite publicly, and enough of my real life friends read this that I know I won’t be able to gracefully back out. This is good, because holy cow, this crap is boring. BORING.

It’s also working, thank god, because I don’t think I could sustain the motivation needed to get through this tedium if I wasn’t seeing glimmers of progress.

First and foremost, let it be known that the relaxation protocol, while challenging for the dog under any circumstance, is even more difficult when there are cats involved. Obnoxious, nosy, food-obsessed, den-loving, clicker-trained cats. In other words: they are constantly right there when the clicker, treats and/or crate comes out. Unfortunately, Maisy has a bit of a problem with resource guarding when it comes to the cats. This, combined with the fact that Maisy has self-appointed herself as the resident kitty cop, means that it can be very, very difficult to convince her to relax when they’re around. Which they are. Constantly.

While they slow the process down, their presence is a huge help. For one thing, they make an excellent distraction, though not as intense as what we might encounter at a trial. Beyond that, Maisy has a long history of rushing the cats and bowling them over, so when she is able to control those impulses around the kitties, I know we’re on the right track.

In fact, it was just one of those moments last week that helped me know that she’s making progress. During one session, one of the kitties did something that Maisy has decided is naughty, something that she would usually discipline them for. Her entire body tensed up, and she raised herself just slightly from the ground. But then she stopped herself, evidently thought about it, and quickly lowered herself back down. She wasn’t relaxed, exactly, but neither was she reacting mindlessly!

I’ll admit, I’ve been a bit lazy with it all. I just can’t bring myself to do it every day. We’ve done it 9 times over the last 14 days. It’s not perfect, but that’s not embarrassing, either. We advanced to day three in the relaxation protocol on our last session, although that session was a little rough. If the next one is as bad (she had a hard time staying in a down, although a sit isn’t really the end of the world), we’ll drop back down to day two for a bit. I’m also working on duration in the crate, and she’s currently managing quite well with a treat once every 60 seconds over the course of five minutes.

I could probably push her further faster, but I want to build this foundation strongly and carefully. As a result, I’m spending several sessions on each step, waiting until I see her relaxed before I move on. Some of the things I’m looking for includes being rolled on to one hip, rather than in a sphinx down, resting her chin on the ground, and taking treats softly instead of grabbing them roughly.

For her part, Maisy is loving this. She’s inside the crate before I can even get it fully set up. When I call her out, she jumps back in before I can break it down again. And every night, at about the time we do the protocol, she starts to whine and poke at the folded-up crate with her nose, all while looking at me hopefully.

Speaking of poking things with her nose, I think that my possibly hare-brained scheme, is working. It was quite easy to shape her to touch my leg, although she tends to think the proper location is in the left kneecap. That’s fine, really, and maybe even better than doing it anywhere else. After all, this way she’ll have to turn away from whatever’s bugging her in order to poke me there. It was a bit more work to convince her that she could poke me when I’m standing, too, but she figured that out.

Right now I’m in the process of assigning a verbal cue to the behavior. She’s got it about half the time, and once it’s a bit more solid, I’ll start cuing that behavior when she’s whining to get my attention. On one occasion, she did use the nose poke to communicate that she wanted something from me (a rawhide), so I think this could work. I must admit, I’m really excited about the possibility of reducing some of her whininess, although I’m aware that the poking could become even more annoying. I hope I don’t regret this!

Anyway, overall I’m very pleased with the progress she’s making. It’s slow, but I’m hoping that as she understands it better, we’ll be able to pick up the back a bit. I hope so, anyway, because at our current rate of progress, this will take six months otherwise! Although that sounds like forever, I know that the time investment will be worth it. I’ll keep you guys updated, of course!


Elephant said...

I love the picture!

I'll laugh if you have to start teaching her "Speak!" around Thanksgiving ;)

Crystal said...

It's an older picture, actually, but one of my favorites. Malcolm is so helpful, isn't he?

Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

ah yes the annoying kitties! I'm very glad to hear that you're making progress, even if it's slow and annoying. Your work with Maisy right now reminds me a lot of the sep. anxiety protocal I worked through with Vito. Boring as hell walking in and out of the damn house every day, took up loads and loads of my time, but so worth it. I think if I have to go through that again though I would just shoot myself. So in some sense I am secretly enjoying your pain (said with an evil laugh).

Really I think you'll be glad that you're taking it slow. When it comes to relaxation and lessening anxiety, you can't rush it. One day you'll be able to look back on this and and be astonished at all how far she's come.

As for the poking, I still can't believe you're doing it! Soon though I'll either be able to celebrate with you or laugh at you, so it's a win-win for me :)

By the way, is there a way to subscribe to your entire comment feed other then each individual posts comments? You often have very interesting conversations in your comments but I often miss out. I know many people set up that option on their blog somewhere...

Crystal said...

Oooh, you evil woman, you! :) Although, I will admit to indulging in a bit of schadenfreude at times, myself.

I do think taking it slow is the way to go. I've always known that good foundations are important, but it's so hard when you're new to something. I haven't always known what a good foundation looks like, and I think sometimes they're glossed over in training classes because people want quick results, and trainers feel pressured to give that to people.

Of course, let's not forget that I'm stubborn as all hell, and when I make up mind to do something, I'm going to do it, mistake or not. Like the poking thing. It's either going to be BRILLIANT or THE DUMBEST THING I EVER DID.

As for subscribing to comments... do you mean that you'd like to receive all comments, to all posts, by default? I know there's a link in every post to subscribe by email, even if you choose not to comment, but I'm not sure how to set up the former. I'd gladly set it up if I knew how.

K said...

I've read about the relaxation protocol but still don't really get it - am I being really dumb? it just looks to me as if it's teaching the dog stay. I just watched this...
are you meant to do that every day and gradually increase the distractions? I know for a fact that if I did this with Frankie he would actually get all agitated and whiney - not very relaxing. Is that why you are taking it really really slow. perhaps I missed a post?
I also found this and thought it might be useful as I can imagine it's very hard not to skip it!

K said...

sorry i just looked in your side links and see that you already have that link!

Crystal said...

Honestly, Kat, I have no idea how/why it works, but I have a few guesses. It really does just look like a stay program, though, doesn't it? Everyone that I know (in real life, or online) who has done the full thing has said that it makes a HUGE difference and is worth the time. I'm already seeing results, so I believe it!

The RP seems to work by teaching the dog that no matter what kind of crazy thing is going on around them (you walking back and forth, clapping, etc. working up to bigger craziness like jogging and ringing doorbells), it is better for them to choose to sit/lie quietly.

If it's done with a crate or mat, it also helps teach that that's a "safe place" where environmental craziness doesn't matter.

I suspect that there is also an element of boredom that comes in- they dog learns that environmental craziness really doesn't concern them, and that they can just relax. I've noticed that when I start a new "day," Maisy is a bit more tense, and then gradually relaxes into it over the course of several sessions.

Most people also reward for signs of relaxation in addition to at the end of each step- so for rolling on to a hip, blinking/soft eyes, yawning, etc.

And, if nothing else, it seems to counter-condition environmental craziness, and makes it a good thing.

Anyway, if you think that Frankie would get agitated and whiney if you did this, that's probably a good indication that it would be helpful to him. If you're right, you may need to break it down into even smaller steps or smaller chunks, though.

I do use those MP3 files, and it DOES make it much easier. I highly recommend using them if you decide to do it.

Raegan said...

"I've noticed that when I start a new "day," Maisy is a bit more tense, and then gradually relaxes into it over the course of several sessions."

It may be too soon to see this kind of improvement, but has Maisy been taking less time to relax when you introduce a new day? As in, the first time you upped the ante it took her the whole session to really relax, but the next time it only took half as long?

For me I think, that would be a big sign she's figuring out the game and becoming habituated I guess to environmental crazies.

Crystal said...

Raegan, that's a really good question and... I don't know for sure. I think so, but that's based more on a feeling than actual, measured observation. I'll have to pay attention to that.

K said...

thanks for explaining, I think we might try it - along with everything else we do!
lucky I work freelance, this dog is a full time job!

Crystal said...

Oh, I hear you! I do not have the time to do everything I'd like with Maisy. Silly full-time job that pays for her, lol.

If you do the relaxation protocol, I'll be curious to hear how it goes. Try it as written, and if Frankie is indeed as whiney and agitated as you expected, find a way to break it up even more. Smaller steps, shorter durations, etc.

Kristen said...

You're SURE you don't want to take my dogs through it?

You get lots of bonus points for sticking with it. Quite impressive!

Crystal said...

Quite sure. And save your impressedness until we've finished this.

Joanna said...

I'm still impressed that you're doing this. You're dedicated!

Crystal said...

Is that the polite word for stubborn?

Lauren said...

Ahh, every time you post about this it makes me face the fact that I need to start this again with Frodo *facepalm*

I'm interested in doing it in the crate (which it seems you are doing as well), do you think that it will help with relaxation in general, even when not in the crate?

Also, did you change the layout of the blog (all the resources, etc. on the left side)? If you did, I LOVE IT! If not, I am *really* unobservant. :p

Crystal said...

Lauren, I think the RP will help with relaxation in general, no matter where the dog is when you do it. Lots of people do it on a mat.

I did switch up the layout a little. I removed the blogroll (I'm using the dashboard for reading now), because it looked cluttered, and added in a bunch of links. I still need to finish sorting my bookmarks to see if I have anything else to share. :)

katie, Maizey (and meeka in our hearts) said...

RP has been on my radar for a long while now, though I wonder how much it will help when she is already so relaxed at home. . . though from what I understand the RP is the foundation work at home and translates else where?

Maybe now I will be able to help my Maizey with these things better, my brain has been just too clouded lately and the full time nursing the last weeks hasn't helped that.:(

But no more excuses now, time to get with it and RP might be just my pace-I'm ready for some boring around here!:P Thanks for another great post!

Crystal said...

Hi Katie,

My understanding is the RP translates elsewhere, too. I plan on doing at home, and then outside (if the weather cooperates), and then at my training center... just to really help it stick.

jojoandpenny said...

Hi Crystal...I'm following your blog to find tips on how to help my own little reactive fellow!

Thank you for posting this. I've been also doing relaxation protocol for the past few weeks (your blog is probably where I found out about it). I do like the longer attention span the dogs seem to be demonstrating...and wow, must I look crazy going in and out of the house all morning (I think #8 and 9#?)

If you ever find something that lessens the whining, I would be most grateful if you can share it. :-D

Crystal said...

Hi Jojo, Penny (and Charlie),

First, your dogs are cute! I'm especially partial to Jojo, but all three are quite adorable.

Okay, with that out of the way. I'm glad to hear that you're getting some positive results from the RP. We're still on day 3, but I'm pleased with our progress. :)

I look forward to reading more about your dogs.