Friday, August 9, 2013

Behaviour Bites - Training for Calm

Give me a remote control, and I
am calm!
Welcome to another Behaviour Bites - and it is about being calm, or more specifically, training for calm in our pets. When you are thinking about your pet's training regime, next to come, sit and stay, should also be "calm"

 But when we talk about "Training for Calm" - is this a lesson which can be learnt? or trained for?  And why bother anyway?

Aren't many animals going to learn calm, when they learn  "drop" or "stay"?   Aren't these "calm" positions?  The answer is no - the dog is not calm during a drop or stay - calm is a state of mind, whereas drop or stay, is a body posture where they may or may not be calm).

Training for calm is not a "my way or the highway" training, but thinking about what is going to  work in your pet!  A single technique will not work in every single animal. It needs to be individualised, and that is where you need to work with an open minded vet or trainer.

This is Leo, snoozing in the middle
of a storm - he found his "safe place"
At this stage, lets focus on what the goal is - of course - is it a fear-free pet?  That is what alot of
thunderstorm treatments work towards - stopping the pet from feeling or responding to fear.  This kind of expectation sets up alot of owners to be disillusioned with their efforts in thunderstorm or firework phobia treatments.  Why?  Because the pet still sits in the corner shaking and trembling, even if it is a big improvement on their previous behaviours of pacing, running around, or destroying doors or buildings.
 But is the removal of fear a realistic outcome? Aren't we then saying that we want a pet that feels no fear at all when a thunderstorm happens?  Does that happen in us? Be honest with yourself - it never does! There are times when we are fearful to.  Fear is normal, and it helps us avoid bad things - we may not like the feeling of fear, but we develop strategies to cope with it.

So, is it a fair goal to have a pet that may fearful of noises or separation, but copes with that fear in a non harmful way?

This is closer to a more realistic goal.

And that is what we try to do when we train for calm.

And training for calm starts at the same time as teaching your pet to come or sit or do a pee in the bottom of the yard instead of the carpet. Yes, you are right - what I am saying is that you need to start as soon as they come into your home.

It all starts with you starting to understand your pet.  Are they normally outgoing, or not... do they like to play with toys, or adore their food.  Is their idea of a great time, just hanging out with you, do they need to be the centre of attention, or are they ok to do things on their own?  Do they have moments of relaxation? If so, after what or when?

Now what about us older ones?
What do we do?
In a puppy or kitten, to starting training for calm, is relatively easy.

 Just use the word "calm" (or any other word you like) , when the pet is starting to relaxed and happy. Reward the calm behaviours. And when something that is potentially fearful occurs, you can then use the word "calm' to let the puppy know that that is the behaviour you want from them - to sit or drop and be calm.

Now, what about those pets who already suffer from panic attacks

And they have had no "training for calm" learning to date. Where do you start?

  • Start with lots of Adaptil or Feliway.
  • Choose a regular time each day that you dedicate to this training and make it fun.
  • Choose an area that is your pet's "safe space" - (with my dog Teddy, it was under our kitchen nook dining table, in the darkest corner. He would go straight there, and not move until the storm was over. )

  • Select your pet's favourite food/treat or toy.  This only comes out when you are training for calm - which should be every day, whilst you are training, and then only as needed.
  • Put on some music (classical music works well)
  • Ask your pet to sit and stay on your mat, and use a word to cue what you are asking.  You can use "calm" or "settle" or any other word - so long as everyone knows what the word is.

  • Now comes the hard part - training your pet to sit/stay in their safe place without you being in the same room. - you walk to the door, asking your pet to stay and be calm, then walk back and reward the behaviour.  Stretch it out to when you can actually leave the room, and know the pet is sitting and waiting for you to return. and reward the calm behaviour.
Your pet needs to be rewarded for the behaviour you want - after all, behaviour rewarded is behaviour repeated!

I am Dr Liz, the vet from Russell Vale Animal Clinic.  Remember, that whilst behaviour is an interest of mine, I am not a veterinary behaviourist or specialist.  We are for happy, healthy pets, and we are here to help you, or point you in the direction of someone who can help you, always.