Curb the Urge:
I went over this during Week 1, but I want to go over it again here!
Define threshold -
According to Merriam-Webster, threshold is:
1 : the plank, stone, or piece of timber that lies under a door : sill
2 a : gate, door
b (1) : end, boundary; specifically : the end of a runway
(2) : the place or point of entering or beginning : outset
- on the threshold of a new age
3 a : the point at which a physiological or psychological effect begins to be produced
- has a high threshold for pain
b : a level, point, or value above which something is true or will take place and below which it is not or will not
Let’s pay attention to 3a. This is what we are referring to when we talk about threshold with our dogs. If they are over threshold, say barking, lunging, whining at something, it is going to be difficult if not impossible for learning to take place for them. Their brain is already WAY too overwhelmed to make good decisions, so in most cases, retreating and giving more space away from the trigger is the best choice.
While we never want to purposefully put our dogs in such a state of mind, so it is important to learn what your dog’s body language looks like before they might go over threshold. When learning impulse control, we want to keep the dog in such a mindset so that they are able to think clearly.
This week, let’s see how we are doing with thresholds for our dog’s biggest distractors! The following video shows how you can find that. The most common things I’m looking for with this would be how close you can get to a dog or human friend before your dog gets TOO excited, as well as how close they can get to prey. We want them to be able to take food, so take their ability to eat as a really good indicator of how they are feeling. They do not have to DO anything to get food! Just periodically offer them some, and see how they go.
If you can’t take video (I know sometimes this can be tricky!), that’s OK! Describe your experience in your homework thread, and make note of the distances you get.
My goal is not for your dog to freak out or to rehearse negative behavior - so if you want to stay further away even then you think you can get, that is fine! Again, use their ability to eat as a gauge.
If you start to approach your trigger and your dog stops taking food or takes food from your hand abnormally hard, stop! Other signs of getting too close would be pulling/lunging at the end of the leash, whining or barking, or staring hard. Again, STOP! Turn around, and remember that distance for your work.
NOTE: The purpose of this class is NOT to put your dog in a position where they are scared or acting in a fearful way! In the following exercises when we put this threshold idea in to practice, we want to use people and dogs your dog likes and is not afraid of in any way. The impulse control we are working on is out of excitement!!!
That being said, let’s do some beginning work for dog and/or people friends!
OLMEC Step 1 with a Person or Dog Friend
Remember - Step 1 of the OLMEC System is STATIONARY! Your other dog/person should remain still while you work on finding your “sweet spot” before your dog pulls to go towards them. Once you are about there, move back a little bit, and try some simple exercises. Hand touches, spins, sit or down, etc...
Reward each behavior, and don’t do anything too crazy in terms of stays or anything too complex. After you’ve done that, move back even more and reward. Then try to get closer again, and repeat the process! The goal is to be able to get within 4-5 feet of your friendly dog/person!
Mat Work Part 3 - Beginning the OLMEC System Part 3
By this point you should have a pretty solid stay on your mat. You should also be able to have a little bit of distance and some decent duration. Now let’s add even more distraction!
Start with your dog on their mat, and try to place the bowl that you used in OLMEC Step 2 on the ground a foot away from them. When they stay, reward from your bowl. Continue doing that for about two sessions, and you can add standing up while the bowl is near them (and they are holding their stay!), walking back with the bowl still there, etc...
Make sure that you pick up the bowl BEFORE releasing though. They are probably not ready for that - YET!
Next, eliminate the bowl completely! Now place treats about a foot away on the ground. Same thing as with the bowl, though, in terms of rewards. Pick up any you have on the ground before releasing.
Here’s a video of how you can start having them release off of the mat going past the bowl, if you find that your dog needs an extra challenge this week.
Make sure that you are making it VERY obvious using your body position (not near the bowl at all) and a hand down that they should be coming to you from the release. Reward them heavily, then go with them a bit to send them back to the mat (you’re using your motion to guide them back). Pick up the bowl before releasing them again once you are finished doing that exercise.
Find your dog’s threshold for their most difficult impulse control issue(s)/distractor(s). Write it down to keep track so you don’t forget!
Complete OLMEC Step 1 with a person and/or dog friend. Tell us how you did!
Begin OLMEC Step 3 using your mat! Try to get in at least 3 sessions.