Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Triumph of the Ordinary

Petting, touching, handling, snuggling, cuddling--all things that are remarkably ordinary when you live with pets; you're used to sitting down and having a furry friend join you or having a dog or cat begging for petting and attention. It's completely ordinary and taken for granted. That is, unless you live with a Finna. 

When we adopted Finna she was uncomfortable being petted, at the time I put it down to fear. When I discovered recently that she has no idea how to cuddle I realized something that makes my heart break for her. Dogs that are being raised to fight get better socialization than she did, they get more handling and more time with people. Michael Vicks dogs were probably better socialized than Finna! No one ever handled this dog before she came to live with us, no one petted her, loved her, played with her, or even simply examined her with touch. I often think there needs to be a special place in the darkest pits for people who instead of nurturing those that are dependent on them neglect and abuse them. Whether the dependent one walks on two legs or four if you've accepted them into your life you owe them care, care that Finna is only now coming to know and expect.

Since I realized that Finna didn't know how to snuggle or cuddle I've been trying to spend a few minutes every day laying on the floor and asking her to cuddle with me. Sometimes I've managed to get her to lay down by my feet or just out of reach for a minute or two but for the most part my success has been limited to a couple of seconds of cuddling before Finna gets overwhelmed and refuses to cooperate. It's hard to believe that I'm having to actively spend time teaching her something that is so unremarkable and ordinary. That's why it was such a triumphant victory recently when Finna came, hopped up in my chair with me, lay down along the arm of the chair and went to sleep. She only slept for about five minutes and freaked out when she woke up because my elbow was too near her sore leg (just some growl and grumble) before hopping down and sacking out on the floor but simply that she would sleep next to me was a huge victory. My lessons on snuggling seem to have paid off.

Victories like this are what make it all worthwhile. It's the triumph of getting behaviors that in other dogs would be so normal, so ordinary, as to be totally ordinary that keeps me hoping and keeps us working to rehabilitate our damaged dog. Today she smiles a lot and she's learning to cuddle and snuggle. Finna is gradually growing to more and more resemble an ordinary dog and that is a huge victory and triumph!

Finna is getting ready for a nap in her newly completed Finna Bin--a plywood crate we built for her. I like the way you can see her eyelids getting heavier and heavier.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Ranger Recommends Behavior Adjustment Training: BAT for Fear, Frustration and Aggression in Dogs by Grisha Stewart

Ranger recommeds Behavior Adjustment Training: BAT for Fear, Frustration and Aggression in Dogs by Grisha Stewart. Actually Finna is even more likely to recommend it since she's the one with more experience with this training protocol. It is making a marked improvement in her abilities to cope as well.

Behavior Adjustment Training BAT uses functional rewards to adjust a dog's reaction to stimulus. When Finna looks at one of her many many triggers and glances away we mark and reward the behavior by turning and walking away. After all, when Finna barks and lunges at a trigger what she's really trying to do is scare it away in order to increase her distance from it. When she gets to move away from the trigger by offering a more polite response--glancing away, turning away, sniffing the ground, etc.--she's being reinforced for the more polite behavior by giving her what she wanted to achieve through the inappropriate behavior. Think of it this way, if you could get what you wanted either by saying please or by having a tantrum which would you rather do. I'd much rather say please since that involves a lot less effort. Dogs are just as lazy as I am; if the same result can be achieved by less effort they'll choose the easier method.

Stewart does a very nice job of laying out the step by step set ups without becoming boringly repetitious. Her prose is clear and easy to understand and I found myself nodding along thinking, yes, that make sense and oh, so that's what's happening. It's definitely one that will remain in my all things dog library.

One of the things I found most striking in the book is how much of the BAT protocol I've always used with Ranger. Ranger has a significant advantage over Finna in that he is both much better socialized and also a very effective communicator. Ranger was raised with people and learned to make the broader gestures that people see when he wants something from them. Finna was raised by a pack of dogs and had extremely limited and inconsistent socialization with people. The part of BAT I'm having the most trouble with is learning to recognize Finna's signals. They are small and subtle particularly when she's walking in front of you and all you have is the back of her head, body, and her stub of a tail. I catch the big gestures, when she turns her head or sniffs the ground, but glances are much harder for me to observe from my position. It is obvious that teaching her a really nice heel is a high priority so that she walks naturally in a position where it is easier for me to observe her more subtle cues.

BAT is an effective training tool that is empowering to both the handler and the dog. Finna is learning that I will move her to a safe distance when she asks which takes much of the pressure of her--she doesn't have to worry all the time that she's going to be unable to escape. I am learning that she can make better choices than to lunge barking wildly at the extreme end of her leash and that make me more relaxed. It's an excellent book and we all recommend it highly.