Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Power of Routine

What do we know to help Shawn on her journey?

We know that Shawn was born in the junkyard about seven months ago. Up until last week, there is no indication she had ever been touched by a human. By all accounts, she had spent her life as a feral puppy.

This means experiences with human behavior, body language, and movement has been unpredictable and limited. Shawn has never experienced pet dog comforts like regular food, clean water, daily walks, novel stimuli in the context of a home, play, socialization, training, or toys.

This means Shawn will be overstimulated by small changes in her routine and environment, which in turn means it is our responsibility to create a stable and controlled set of actions to show her that human behavior is predictable. This also means she is a novice learner. The act of "set activity + experiment + practice = learning" is new to her. We will have to 'teach her how to learn' by creating a predictable environment where she feels safe to take risks.

We can expect Shawn to begin interacting with her environment around days 3-5. We can expect that shortly thereafter, she will begin experimenting with vocalizations and body language to learn "what works" to get what she wants: excessive barking, jumping, body blocking, licking, mouthing, and nipping.

We know our plan to help Shawn will consist of contact only that is part of daily care routine: feeding, cleaning, and quiet sitting. We know to avoid high-energy body language and verbalizations such as fast walking, exaggerated arm movements, shouting, high-pitched voices. We know that forcing interaction with Shawn if she cowers, moves with head down, or changes positions to remain the farthest distance from the caretaker will break what little bond of trust we have achieved.

We also know we must keep our own human emotions in check. We need to recognize our tendency to empathize and put human emotions on a dog. We have to realize our human want to touch, hold, and maintain eye contact and understand that this is the opposite of what a dog naturally wants. This means being aware that dogs often see hugs as restraint, touches from above as a sign of aggression or dominance, and direct eye contact as "staring down". As difficult as it can be to restrain ourselves from putting our human emotions on Shawn, we have to meet our need to show her affection in ways she will understand: establish a routine, provide daily care, allow her to observe normal human behavior, and share the same space without touch unless she initiates it.

It all goes back to the most important piece of training advice ever given to me. "Do not underestimate the power of routine."-- Julie Castaneda, CPDT-KA

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