Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Another fun adventure for Viva

I'm very familiar with Seward Park since that's where I take D'light to hunt critters.   This is a large park with lots to do.  Some places in the park are pretty vacant of dogs and other places (the 2.5 mile loop around the park) have lots of dogs. 

With Viva, I'm doing a lot of outside environmental enrichment and trying to minimize dog sightings.  I strongly believe that outside environmental enrichment builds confidence in a dog and gives them a chance to enjoy being in different environments.  With that said, the human needs to be thoughtful of where they are taking the dog.  I wouldn't take a noise sensitive dog into downtown Seattle, I wouldn't take a dog who is dog reactive to a heavy dog area.  People get confused thinking if they take the dog to places full of triggers that it will "help the dog work through it".  In fact what is happening by going into a trigger full environment is that the dog is being flooded - not a good thing and it does not help the dog work through what they are fearful of.  Here's a great link that has lots of training definitions including the definition of flooding.

Viva and I head over to Seward Park.  We arrive early in the morning and we pretty much have the park to ourselves - perfect!

We are going to be exploring a number of different sections of the park (so at least 3 blog posts).  We start off with the entrance of the park.

While there are very few people at the park - it's active with birds, squirrels and chipmunks.

Viva does a lot of standing still to sniff the air and visually take in the environment.

And then we get the opposite behavior when a critter is in the area...  she smelled a squirrel and you can see where that leads to.

Notice the black leash - Viva is on the other end of it in the bushes.

Viva comes out of the bush and circles the area hoping to pick up on more squirrel smell.

We move onto the children's play area and no kids which is excellent. Kids cause a lot of worry for Viva and she will still growl when she sees them.  Viva's growling a way she manages her emotional state.  I have to say that I'm glad she does this.  It's a very clear communication that I need to help manage the environment and it clues me into Viva's emotional state.  Since coming to us, Viva's  growling has reduced because of the way we manage the environment and are building new skills.  


Taking in the environment. There's lots of kids play equipment and again birds and squirrels in the area.

There are also a lot of different surfaces in this area.  This flooring is a squishy pad that caught me off guard at first so, I can only imagine how all the different textures feel and impact dogs.

Here's Viva running up the ramp!

At the top of the squishy ramp and Viva taking in all the stuff!

Down the ramp we go and time to leave the kids park

We skirt around all the beautiful flowers! 

We run around the large circled area.  Viva is a mover so that means I'm moving too!

I want to cut through the kids play area to get to the water.   However we have two things happening in the environment that are triggers for Viva.  There's a man off in the distance with a cane and his arm in a sling.  And there's a kid in the swing, her dad is pushing her in the swing which you can see two pictures down.

Viva's space bubble is pretty large right now.  Meaning the closer she is to a trigger the more she reacts and she reacts in a way that has worked to make the trigger go away.  The behaviors include growling, barking and lunging at the trigger.  If Viva has enough distance from the trigger then the above behaviors don't happen.  Lots of people who see Viva when she's over threshold and giving the above behaviors, would think she looks like an aggressive dog. Viva gives us these behaviors not because she's aggressive but, because she's fearful of the trigger she sees.   The hope is that with Desensitization and Counterconditioning & the other alternative behaviors we are working on, her space bubble will shrink over time.  This doesn't happen overnight and it takes a lot of practice.  With a dog that has such strong behavior reactions, the human has to be fully committed to this work or it's going to be a long and exhausting road for the human and dog. 

What's great about Viva is that with enough space she's making good decisions using the skills we've been working on.  Again with enough space, she will stop,watch the trigger and then look to me. This is the behavior I'm reinforce and is much better than the growling, barking and lunging.

Viva watched the multiple triggers (you can see them in the below picture) and she slowly moved forward and then she turned back around to look at me.  Way to go Viva, excellent choice!

And of course if Viva had started to growl, bark or lunge we would have moved away giving more distance between Viva and the triggers.

Notice the loose leash.  I want her to feel in control of her choices so I try to make sure she has a lose leash when she's making decisions about what behavior to use when she sees a trigger.

After she looked to me, I tossed the food reinforcer away from the tiggers so that she had even more space away from them.

We then walked down the pathway behind me while the man with the sling and cane moved out of this area.

We then came back to the area and play a game on all the cool man made wood stumps.
I place a treat on the top and Viva gets to find which stump has the treat!

"Yummy treats!" And the kid and her dad are still over there.

I purposely put the treats on the stumps furthest  from the triggers.  I want Viva to be successful and by playing this game it gives me the opportunity to see if she will eat with the triggers present.  If she won't eat then that's a big clue that she's stressed. She eats no problem and this game builds her confidence and creates a positive emotional response to the triggers.

Time to show off her fun self and up she goes onto a stump.  She's staring away from the triggers and I'm guessing she smells a critter since they like to hang out in this area where kids drop food for them.

We head over to the water and we do not walk anywhere near triggers.  Why? Because Viva had a very successful experience with seeing all of those triggers and I wanted to end on that.  We as humans often get greedy and push it just a little bit more to see if we can get more positive behavior.  That pushing is not helpful and I've pushed a dog wanting just a little more and it's fallen apart.  So, take the little increments of progress and move away.  Those little steps of progress will build on each other!

Viva is excited about the ducks and she put the brakes on when she realized there was a drop off!

Viva trying to figure out how to get down to those ducks!

Too big of a drop off so watching the ducks is the next best option!

Time to head to another section of the park and we get to pass by the lovely flowers again!

Lots to sniff!

Pretty Viva watching the crows and I get a lovely photo of her!

Stay tuned to see where we go next!

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