Training a dog to get settled is not something that happens overnight, because dogs don’t understand human languages or the circumstances of the fate we’ve chosen for them. Settling in takes time and patience. The process isn’t black or white, nor is progress linear. There is no ‘typical’ timeline in which things are expected to happen (or not happen). Along the way there are pushes and nudges; a hop, skip, jump, and leap here; hurdles, obstacles, and setbacks there. We (dogs and humans) work together towards mutual trust and understanding in order to persevere, and when we’ve hit a wall, we pivot our approaches to march upwards and onwards.
Training should not be a mundane and tedious task of rehearsing tricks over and over again. Instead it should be fun and interactive, which is what keeps Charley’s Einstein brain engaged and on his toes. In his training, whether for obedience, desensitization, or confidence building, his foster parents have found innovative ways to do just that. Together we have borrowed ideas from other methods, practices, and techniques in areas of force free, positive reinforcement training and applied them to our own approaches.
Charley’s foster parents have devised a number of “games” for him to provide mental stimulation, all the while helping to subconsciously desensitize and build his confidence. One of these activities is as simple as providing a puzzle toy to work on. The ability to engage his nose is a simple instinctive behavior dogs naturally find satisfying. While he may think he is simply doing “dog things”, being to successfully solve a problem makes Charley feel good about himself, and subsequently builds his overall confidence. He also practices his exercise while the dishwasher is running the background, something that previously triggered his anxiety. Working on his toy and affirming feelings of confidence in the presence of the once scary dishwasher has provided a welcome distraction and helps with overall desensitization.
Charley is also very sensitive about his paws, and we knew come winter without the help of the asphalt to file them down during walks, managing his nails would be quite difficult. Visiting the vet for nail trims send his stress levels through the roof, so it became clear desensitization was a necessary starting point to help him overcome these sensitivities.
With the help of a DIY customized “nail filing station” (shown in the video) made by his foster dad, Charley allows his curiosities and playfulness to override his apprehension. He has wiggled into a small space. He has a large object hovering over his head. There is this funny feeling everytime his paws graze over the sandpaper. These are all circumstances he would have once cowered from, but he doesn’t even notice. He is having fun without even knowing he has conquered his insecurities and has effectively pushed himself out of his own comfort zone.
His foster parents have also borrowed techniques from the Tellington T-Touch method, an integrative and holistic training approach originally developed for horses. This method uses different types of touch (pressure, pattern, and location) with the main goal of desensitizing and decreasing stress and reactivity. When the animal, be it a horse or a dog, is relaxed it allows them greater confidence and in turn, more focus, self control, and emotional balance so they can better focus on making conscious choices instead of strictly reacting.
Training is not universal. It is not a “one size fits most” system, or a guarantee that the magical approach that was successful with one dog will work for the other. It requires an understanding of personalities on a deeper level and often pushes us towards collaborative, innovative, and interdisciplinary approaches. We are far from experts, but if we’ve learned anything in the process it is the importance of keeping an open mind and trusting our intrinsic instincts and experiences.
Written by Sara Liao, Board of Director & Adoption Manager