Sunday, April 17, 2011

Discussion Group 1: Stress

Our Agility classes run for 6 weeks with an 'off week' between sessions. Our 3 fabulous instructors had the great idea to offer an optional discussion group on the off-week and they got us started by arranging for those interested to meet at a local restaurant. They also chose the topic: 'Can you Motivate a Stressed Dog?' and provided articles to read prior to the meeting.

It was not only a great idea but a great turnout as well. I didn't think to count the attendees but there had to be 20 women in the private dining room!

We started by defining stress. According to Webster:
 a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation a state resulting from a stress; especially : one of bodily or mental tension resulting from factors that tend to alter an existent equilibrium <job-related stress>
We then had a round table discussion about what signs and/or signals our dogs give when they are 'stressed'. Some of the group's responses were:

Ears pinned back
Tail between legs
Running off course
'Whale Eye'
Ignoring Commands
Slow Obstacle Performance
Obstacle Refusal

We discussed the difference between 'Stressing Up' and 'Stressing Down' in dogs. The consensus was that Stressing Up was a more favorable state than Stressing Down. Dogs that are Stressing Up are often energized and excited. Dogs that are Stressing Down are often fearful or anxious and can be moving toward a Shutting Down state which is not conducive to learning. 

We talked about the fact that a dog's stress is more of a physiological reaction to their surroundings while a human's stress is both physiological and emotional. In other words, the dog isn't thinking "I am so stressed out right now! I need a break or I'll freak out!" The dog is reacting to the environment.

Next we discussed whether or not a stressed dog could be motivated to learn. Many in the group felt that it was possible but that the stressor needed to be identified and addressed first. This could be accomplished by working to keep dogs under threshold so that learning could occur. Many contributors  cited Leslie McDevitt's book, 'Control Unleashed' for tips and techniques.

We somehow got onto the topic of Training and each person shared a little bit about how much time they spent actually training their dog. Most attendees felt that every interaction they had with their dog was a form of training. Others spoke of doing short, focused obstacle training sessions as well as more casual training such as working for meals or shadow handling on daily walks.

It was a really nice evening shared with dog lovers! It was great to have a range from novice to expert and to hear other's experiences with their dogs and training. Networking can be such a powerful tool to learning.

I am looking forward to our next Off-Week Discussion Group which will be led by some of the students. Thanks to Linda, Jessica and Jeanne for a fun and informative time!

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