By Debby Kay © all rights reserved
The past few weeks has been a whirlwind of activity at our house and has produced some excellent situations for the diabetes alert dogs in training (DADsit) We don’t often think of training under stressful conditions, but life can be stressful and the DADsit need to learn their job doesn’t stop when the stress levels rise.
We are remodeling our living space with many upgrades and the addition of three bedrooms so there are contractors of every type with equipment of every description throughout our normally peaceful home. The noise, hustle, and disruption of the daily routine are all helpful in teaching the young dogs how to work through such stresses.
Whenever I am working a young dog under these conditions I always start with an exercise they enjoy and do well. My goal is to get them comfortable and into a nice training rhythm before I teach something new or more complex. In other words I set the dogs up for success so they can come away from the session feeling positive. If I don’t see them settle down and relax I don’t push the issue either. I will take them away and try again in 10 or 20 minutes.
Another type of stressful situation you might consider training for is around ambulances. We recently had an ambulance and crew at the house during filming for my new online training course. The sounds, lights, and smells associated with the scene are unlike anything else and a good training experience for a DADit.
During all the commotion at the house, I had an experience that reminded me especially to always be aware of our dog’s feelings and emotions. My rescued Chihuahua Boo was particularly affected on the main day we were packing boxes of things for safekeeping and old furniture was being hauled away. At first, he was out and about watching what was going on, but I realized at one point he had disappeared. I went looking for him and found him crying under a chair in another room. He was trembling and obviously very upset. As I held him and tried to comfort him, it occurred to me his adoption papers said his previous family was moving when they dropped him off at the shelter.
How do you explain to a scared little dog who was just getting settled in at his new home that all this packing and moving doesn’t mean we are going to dump him at the shelter? I’m still not sure he understands. I have tried to explain and reassure him we would never get rid of him and can only hope he somehow understands.
It is important especially with rescue dogs or very sensitive dogs to look for those clues that they are not coping well with the stress around them. In Boo’s case he was clearly crying, but other dogs might not offer as plain a clue to their feelings.
Here are a few additional subtle signs of stress to look for in your dog:
- Constant nervous licking of themselves especially their paws or feet
- Ears pulled back against the head
- Frequent urination
- Panting and pacing
These are just a few things that may be a clue your dog is overstressed. So what can you do to help them?
My favorite thing is to go for a walk. The best time to do this is early in the morning when the sun is bright. Stress affects the adrenal glands, which produce higher levels of cortisol, and this is one known tip to help bring the adrenals back to a normal cycle. Since muscles tend to tense during stress I also like using massage. It’s nice if you can take you dog to a massage therapist but if not, you can just use long, purposeful strokes all over your dog’s body. It will do wonders to reduce stress. My dogs love to have their ears gently massaged as well.
At the end of the day, after his massage, Boo was snuggled under the blanket with me, sleeping soundly. The memories of his Gethsemane began fading as his breathing got slower and deeper. I am hoping somehow he understood everything I told him, especially the part about being my best little service dog in training.