The Play Way for Shy and Fearful Dogs
Play is a widespread characteristic of social animals. Humans play. Dogs play. Maybe our shared want for and love of play is a part of what strengthens our want to share our lives with canines. We play along with toys and invent satisfying video games. Many of us make a degree to include toy play and enjoyable interpersonal play into our coaching packages, providing an thrilling bout of tug or a possibility to retrieve a prized ball in alternate for an accurate response to a cue.
Used in a really particular manner, play additionally helps shy and fearful canines study to work via and overcome worry and anxiousness, typically in circumstances the place extra conventional positive-reinforcement strategies – makes an attempt to counter-condition triggers (“scary things”) with using meals – have been much less profitable.
Amy Cook, Ph.D., a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, has been coaching canines for 30 years and has specialised in working with shy and fearful canines for the previous 20. She first started exploring the therapeutic worth of play for shy and fearful canines as a part of her doctoral work in psychology, the place she realized the stark variations between therapeutic approaches to addressing worry and anxiousness in kids and the way positive-reinforcement canine trainers usually addressed worry and anxiousness in canines. In exploring therapeutic approaches to traumatized kids, Cook questioned if an analogous method may work for canines.
“It got me thinking,” Cook says. “When we have a traumatized 4-year-old child, what do we do with them? Do we lean on classical conditioning to make new associations? Sure, that can be there, but there’s so much more to pull from in the human therapy model than what we were pulling from with Skinner and Pavlov as dog trainers.” Cook started exploring the numerous methods baby remedy typically incorporates playful, enjoyable video games and nurturing actions to speak love, pleasure, and security to a traumatized baby.
Not lengthy after, Cook formulated the ideas she discovered handiest for rehabilitating frightened canines into Play Way.
PLAY WAY IS DIFFERENT
The Play Way incorporates play in a rigorously nuanced method with a view to assist shy and fearful canines overcome their points with a view to reside a happier, less-stressed life. But the “play” used within the Play Way is totally different from what many individuals doubtless consider when requested to play with their canine.
“In my system, the dog leads most of the play,” explains Cook. “I may not prod or nag or insist. I may only invite. If the dog responds with, ‘Yeah, I’d love to do that,’ then great. If the dog says, ‘No thank you. I’m busy. I’m sniffing. I’m looking at something,’ that’s okay, too. I want the trainer to communicate her availability to play, but it’s equally important to respect the dog’s answer.”
Cook says that’s the toughest half. Especially in circumstances the place the coach is used to aiming for fixed engagement throughout coaching periods, desperate to name the canine’s identify or in any other case prod for consideration the moment he turns into distracted and appears away.
“We’d never dream of doing that in our interaction with other humans,” says Cook. “If you were on the phone and I wanted to talk to you, and you said, ‘Give me a second,’ I’d need to give you that time. I wouldn’t grab the phone, hang it up and say, ‘Hey! Hang up the phone! I have money, take it, let’s talk!’ The Play Way is a lot more about how interactions happen between people. I’m asking handlers to explore this space where the dog gets to decide if they want to do this.”
Giving the canine equal footing within the decision-making course of is only one key facet of the Play Way. How one performs is the opposite, together with instructing the canine to “look at and dismiss” potential triggers (that is described in “The Play Way, Step by Step,” on web page 21).
For most individuals, essentially the most difficult a part of studying the Play Way is studying find out how to play on this method. Play Way play just isn’t about overly excited, high-arousal play. It’s about growing a consensual, relaxed but playful interplay between canine and human that offers each events permission to be foolish and easily benefit from the second. High-energy, aroused play undoubtedly has a spot in Cook’s toolbox. It’s tremendous enjoyable, builds and maintains arousal when wanted, and is nice for constructing anticipation and reinforcing educated behaviors. It’s simply not the aim within the Play Way.
Taking the time to develop a conversational, give-and-take social play relationship is vital as a result of in rehabilitating shy and fearful canines, the canine’s skill to interact on this method serves as a barometer for the way a canine is feeling.
Threshold is a phrase that comes up loads in work with fearful canines (and canines who exhibit aggressive habits, too, which is smart as a result of quite a lot of aggression is straight traced to worry). Threshold is loosely outlined because the second when a canine crosses from one emotional state to a different. In the particular context of fearful canines, a canine who’s simply “under threshold” is in that emotional candy spot the place he’s conscious of the presence of the set off (the “scary thing”) however not feeling in any respect threatened. Once he’s tipped right into a fearful state (“over threshold”), the fight-or-flight hormones (adrenaline, cortisol) could kick in, making it arduous for him to assume, study, bear in mind, and reply like a extra “normal” canine.
When working with fearful canines, the flexibility to maintain the canine sufficiently sub-threshold is paramount to the coaching success. But maintaining a canine beneath threshold is commonly simpler stated than completed. Real-world variables can change on a dime, particularly if one hasn’t gone to nice lengths to rigorously arrange a managed coaching session. And a harassed canine just isn’t within the correct psychological state to study he’s protected within the presence of the set off.
“When I first learned about positive reinforcement-based dog training, the general wisdom was that as long as the dog is eating, he’s under threshold,” says Cook. “That might be a reliable indicator for some dogs, but it’s far too unreliable for me with the degree of under threshold I’m aiming for. After all, many dogs can eat or tug on a toy while stressed.”
NOT THE USUAL COUNTER-CONDITIONING
Many trainers flip to classical counter-conditioning to assist rewire how the canine’s mind reacts to scary issues. But Cook’s methodology follows extra of a human therapeutic mannequin.
Rather than use meals in an try to reprogram how the canine feels in particular conditions, her aim is to assist the canine naturally obtain an emotional state the place he can comfortably consider a scenario and are available to his personal conclusion that there’s nothing to fret about. It’s just like how a talented human therapist guides an individual via a therapeutic course of in such a manner that the consumer discovers the solutions herself.
“It’s about giving the dog the chance to self-soothe from a place of entirely established safety, and where they’re already feeing relaxed. Now they have a chance to gather new information and I don’t have to tell them what specific response they should be having. I’m not saying, ‘You’re right, there’s a stimulus (the scary thing) and now I’m going to give you something (food) to influence you directly.’ Instead, I can say, ‘Go ahead and look at the scary thing and come to the very real conclusion that you are not under threat here.’”
Play helps facilitate the method. Whereas the aim of meals facilities round altering the canine’s conditioned emotional response (CER) to the set off, the aim of Play Way play is to assist put the learner into a greater frame of mind from which to completely consider the scenario and organically notice there isn’t any menace.
WHAT PLAY WAY PLAY LOOKS LIKE
Play Way play is about social, interpersonal play, extra so than enjoying along with toys or utilizing meals. What issues most is that the human acknowledges and adopts the conversational nature of how canines play with one another, somewhat than search to drive and management the play interplay.
Healthy dog-to-dog play has a pure rhythm. There’s quite a lot of forwards and backwards. They pause. They maintain suspense. They change issues up. They don’t a lot get pleasure from a play companion who’s being pushy. It’s not as a lot enjoyable to play with somebody who insists on selecting the sport and dictating precisely the way it’s performed.
“It’s a lot like working with toddlers,” says Cook. “With kids, you don’t get to decide how the game goes. It’s no fun if you decide we have to play Candyland and then you win. Play Way play is about being cooperative, improvising, and letting the dog make suggestions like, ‘I want to do this…’ or ‘I don’t like when you poke my butt with your claw hand, but I do like to play fake bitey-face with you.’”
Try play-bowing at your canine. Hide your face and encourage your canine to burrow beneath your palms to “find” you. Cover your self with a blanket and do the identical. Start with sluggish, tender power and provides your canine loads of room to maneuver round. Try to exude affection. Flirt! When you contact the canine, pull again and invite her to come back towards you. Don’t be afraid to attempt new issues, however don’t frantically change from one habits to a different. Float an concept and see what occurs. If your canine is used to interactive toy play or frequent coaching periods, he could be confused and want time (over a number of brief periods) to determine what’s occurring.
PLAY WAY ADVANTAGES
According to Cook, one of many greatest benefits of the Play Way methodology is its skill to maintain handlers sincere about whether or not or not the canine is beneath threshold. That’s as a result of many food-motivated canines will nonetheless eat and a few toy-motivated canines can nonetheless enthusiastically tug though anxiousness is creeping in. In distinction, social play (as practiced within the Play Way) is way extra fragile. Social play is the very first thing to go when stress begins to creep in, says Cook.
“It’s not very robust,” Cook says. “The second a canine begins to have even a gentle concern – or perhaps a curiosity that may result in a priority – the play stops. When that occurs, you as a coach have a transparent indication of one thing you might want to take note of and probably alter. It retains the coach sincere about staying beneath threshold.
“I like issues that assist me counter my very own biases and weaknesses as a human being,” Cook continues. “When you’re trying to get something done, you might be tempted to tell yourself it’s okay, the dog’s fine if he’s eating or tugging. I find this type of social play keeps me really honest in my assessments.”
The skill to take care of a excessive diploma of accuracy concerning the canine’s thresholds can result in sooner outcomes in comparison with conventional classical counter-conditioning protocols. It’s a closely front-loaded effort that pays off ultimately. By taking the time to slowly develop a completely consensual, give-and-take play relationship with a canine, you acquire the flexibility to make use of social play for therapeutic functions. And in utilizing social play therapeutically, you’re much less more likely to by chance push the canine over threshold.
Also, by stopping the canine from going over threshold, he’s extra more likely to take constant steps in the appropriate path, as a substitute of setbacks frequently inflicting him to take two steps ahead and three steps again.
MUTUALLY RESPECTFUL TRAINING
Here’s a facet of play remedy that’s much less generally seen in different canine coaching methodologies: Being “present” – delicate and respectful of the canine’s wants – is an integral part of the Play Way.
“It’s not about coming in with a plan and saying, ‘I’m going to make this specific thing happen to influence you to feel a certain way,’” Cook explains. “I’m sensitive and listening to my learner. It enriches all of my training to consider a space where I’m respectful of the viewpoint of my dog. I don’t think that’s something we emphasize enough in dog training.”
That’s to not say Cook suggests canines ought to name the pictures on a regular basis; she is aware of that’s not sensible. But setting apart time to develop social play can also be helpful as an general stress launch for each shy and fearful canines and their homeowners.
“Reactive dogs, shy dogs, fearful dogs – they all live a more inherently stressful life,” Cook says. “It’s hard to be routinely triggered by stressful things. We all need play, silliness, and laughter to help shake-off these types of stressful build-ups. I think, in general, we don’t really do enough to relax the dogs who spend a decent amount of time feeling an overabundance of stress compared to a more adjusted dog.”
In this fashion, the Play Way methodology might be simply as helpful to the canine and proprietor as a group as it’s in its skill to assist the canine organically work via its fears.
“When you own a fearful or reactive dog, you yourself are often stressed,” says Cook. “You’re nervous your canine will blow up at any time, and also you’re nervous what individuals will assume. Maybe you’re even grieving a little bit bit as a result of this isn’t what you pictured when you considered getting a canine.
“I believe it helps the human, the canine, and the partnership to have this one expectation-free area – this remoted time the place you solely deal with what you each can do proper, the place you make one another chortle and revel in fooling around collectively. That type of connection may also help maintain you invested for the lengthy haul in serving to your canine. It can recharge the batteries within the relationship.”
As Cook at all times says, it’s magic!