Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Training Tuesday: Relaxation Update

The main thing Maisy and I are working on right now is relaxing on her mat, and after reviewing my recent posts on the topic, I have to say I’m amazed by how this endeavor has evolved. We started out by doing the relaxation protocol, which went fairly well; we got all the way up to day 5 of the protocol. Still, Maisy was working, not relaxing, so I decided to try something I called day zero, which was basically just duration work on the mat with no tasks or distractions. Unfortunately, Maisy was still working, and I ended my last post wondering how I could change the picture so that Maisy would understand that she should just relax.

I ended up changing two things: the location of the mat, and the reward for being calm. Together, this has made a pretty huge difference in how our relaxation sessions are going, so I’m pretty excited to tell you about our progress.

The first change I made was to move the mat from the floor to the couch next to me. This was an easy decision, mostly because I had no idea what else to use as a mat. We’d already used different types of objects as a mat before, which meant that she’d already been introduced to the idea that lying on any mat-type object is a cue to work. But Maisy was already choosing to relax next to me on the couch in the evenings, and since we’ve never done any training on the couch, it seemed like a natural choice. After all, the entire association with lying on the couch is one of relaxation.

The second change was the way I’m rewarding her calm behavior. Before, I was using food treats to reinforce lying on the mat. Since Maisy is a clicker trained dog, she associates treats with working. If she was receiving treats for lying on the mat, that must mean that she should be working, and frankly, this is not a dog who will relax when there’s an opportunity to earn treats!

Now, I’m rewarding calm behavior with petting and massage. I don’t know that this would work for all dogs- and in fact, a year or two ago, it may not have worked for Maisy. She used to be fairly sensitive to touch, and would wiggle and squirm when I tried to stroke her. Since then, though, she’s learned to enjoy being touched, and more importantly, I’ve learned how she likes to be touched. Even better, it’s something we only do when chilling at home, not as a reward for trained behaviors.

With all that said, our typical relaxation session goes something like this: I wait until later in the evening, when Maisy is already showing signs of being tired. For a dog that doesn’t sleep a lot, this means waiting until she’s no longer begging me to throw her ball. Then I place her mat next to me on the couch, pat it with my hand, and ask her to come over. Sometimes I need to ask her to lie down, sometimes I don’t. If she tries to leave, I just call her back. Then, I time how long it takes her to relax, which I define as lying her head down. Depending on how restless she is, I ask her to remain like that for anywhere between one and five minutes. I will occasionally coo at her and rub her ears the way she likes before releasing her. If she chooses to stay on the mat after being released, that’s fine- I just wait until she goes, and then put the mat away.

We had two especially good sessions recently. On Sunday, it took Maisy several minutes to settle down, but once she did, it was true relaxation. She sprawled onto her back with her eyes closed. She looked truly peaceful, and she remained like that for almost ten minutes! Then, yesterday, as soon as I set the mat on the couch, she immediately jumped on it and lay down. She only remained in a relaxed position for about a minute, but even so, I was excited that she understood that the mat is a cue for relaxing.

I don’t plan to change anything for the next two weeks. Before I do, I want her to settle down on the mat within a minute, and to remain relaxed for a total of five minutes. I really think that it’s important to take things slowly right now. I want her to have a solid understanding of the mat as a place of relaxation before I add duration or change the location of the mat.

I’m really happy with the way it’s going, though, and although it’s taken awhile to figure out what will work for her, I think she’ll continue to be more and more relaxed. I already mentioned this, but in class last week, Maisy was calm and quiet in her crate for the entire time- something that had never happened before. Between our hard work and the chemical edge we’re getting from her medication, I’m finally feeling hopeful about her future again.


Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

That is fantastic news!!! What a huge breakthrough for for you guys!

Crystal said...

We had ANOTHER completely reaction free class tonight! That's two in a row comfortably lying in her crate, with periods where her head was down. She wasn't staring at me as much, and wasn't trying to escape out the top. She didn't divebomb the door, she didn't growl, she didn't even "wuff"!

kat said...

thats great news, food can be very stimulating!
I was going to suggest ttouch, have you thought about doing that? i went and had a one off teaching session a while ago and it's quite easy to do. I could see results straight away. A friend of mine swears by it, when he got his rescue dog it never wagged its tail and it couldn't sleep - ever! After a week he got a book on ttouch and started straight away, that night he put a bandage wrap around him and he slept and slept! he also did ttouch on the base of his tail and he started wagging his tail.

Crystal said...

I've used a TTouch wrap on Maisy- it actually made her MORE stressed out. Very interesting. So far as the touches, I read a book on it and then tried some of the touches about a year ago. It didn't go over so well, but like I said in my post, she does better with touch in general now, so maybe I ought to try again. She DOES really like ear slides.

Katie, Maizey and Magnus said...

Most importantly, I have to say, YAY!!:) Your progress always gives me hope, and I need hope right now. So thanks!

TTouch was my first thought, I just started it with my pups this week. With Magnus it works like a charm. With Maizey I haven't seen results yet. I have to wonder how much that is from me not being relaxed enough myself. Magnus' agility class instructor urged me to try the TTouch for puppies and I just ordered that book, hopefully it comes soon.

I find it so interesting that it works with my brave boy, but not with Maizey. Perhaps I am not doing it right, but I am going to keep trying.

Catalina said...

That is great progress! Isn't it nice when you can see something is working?

P.S. I'm having a giveaway on my blog http://justatibetanpup.blogspot.com
I hope you enter!

kat said...

when I went and had my lesson she said that you have to listen to the dog and what it is requesting. If it seems uncomfortable you might try a harder or softer touch, a different location, a different type. If you look it up on youtube there is probably a vid showing how to do it. I imagine it is difficult to learn from a book. the wrap may have disturbed her because it was new. Does she ever wear a coat? you can use a thunder shirt instead of a wrap. The first time i ever put a coat on Frankie I could see a difference instantly, he carried himself better - pretty weird but he did seem to have more confidence. If she's more used to a coat then she may accept the tee better. It just need to be fitted. Frankie was not as keen on the clouded leopard at first but after a while really relaxed and he loves the zig zag body touch (don't know it's proper name) maybe try that one. It's easy too!

Crystal said...

She actually reacts worse to doggie-coats. Harnesses are bad too- she will refuse to walk for a LONG time. At this point, I think it would take so much work to overcome her anxiety about wraps that it's not worth the potential benefits.

I'll try looking some touches up on Youtube- that's a great idea. She's much better than she used to be about touch in general, so I think it's worth a try.

katie said...

Hey Crystal, here are a couple of the links I found helpful:


I've been doing this with both dogs all week. It is so interesting. Magnus seems to know immediately what we are doing. Sometimes it literally takes only two circles and he sighs and settles. Maizey will actually get up and move away from me when I start the circles. Moving away from me is not a normal behavior for her at all.

My friend compared it to how some people love massage and some people can't relax enough to benefit from massage. But I am still interested to see if she accepts different touches. Hope the links help!

Crystal said...

Thanks Katie- that's the experience I had with Maisy, too. Getting up and leaving. I'll watch those videos later today (after work) and try it out. :)