Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Not everyone enjoys a being covered

Viva is a dog that doesn't enjoy things that she feels are restraining to her.  This includes being under blankets. This isn't a big surprise and she's not the first dog we've had in our care that doesn't like the feeling of not being able to get out from under a blanket.   

Why is this?  My best guesses are 1) lack of exposure/experince to being covered by a blanket and sweater 2) the fear of not being able to get away when covered.  While Viva is pretty relaxed in our house, she is still very aware of her surroundings.  She's a dog who hasn't shaken the behavior of needing to be on guard/instantly react to something scary.  I attribute some of this to her long shelter stint that was not psychologically healthy for her - she couldn't get away from the scary stuff around her.  3) Being covered by a blanket or sweater feels very different than being naked. Meaning lots of sensation to the body from the thing covering you.  Think about how you feel fully clothed vs. being naked.  If you are not use that it can be jarring - think about babies being dressed vs. being in their diapers.  It takes time to feel comfortable being covered.

We figured all of this out a couple months ago as the weather was turning cooler.  Viva has very short hair and very little hair on her underside.  She's the perfect candidate for blankets and sweaters but, wasn't going to work for her.

So, I made the decision to start using Desensitization/Classical Conditioning (DS/CC) with Viva with blankets and sweaters.  I made this decision because she's often clearly cold and shaking because she's cold.  Even with our heat turned up she's cold and it's hard to relax when you are stressed out because you are cold.  If she was not clearly cold I would just skip blankets and sweaters all together with her. When we are asking anything of dog, we should always be asking "Why am I doing this and to what end?" especially when it's something that brings discomfort to the dog.    

We started working on coverage with a blanket since that's way easier to work with and minimal involvement with us once she is covered.  Where as with a sweater it has to go over her head and then her legs have to get through the leg holes.

We start out with her just resting on blankets and reinforcing her with a treat when she's on the blanket.  This was easy for everyone and no pressure for Viva.


Then we added other blankets that she would lay on and around.  Again reinforcing her with a food reward for her choice to be on the blankets.

After a while we would slowly cover a small amount of her back end and then reinforcer with either a food reward and/or we would take the blanket off after it sitting on her back end for a very short time.

As the month went on we slowly increase how much we were covering Viva with the blanket.  There were clearly days that she didn't want any coverage and when she would move away from the blanket we would not re-cover her. Once she figured this out/that she had choice things progressed.  Viva always has choice while we do this work and like us some days are better than others when it comes to the blanket.

We recently found her like this - great progress!  Like most work with Viva (and all dogs) this isn't a "just try this a couple of times".  It's ongoing work using DS/CC and we continue to move at the pace that Viva sets.  We are in no rush and we want to create and build a positive emotional response for her around being covered.

Stay tuned as I will be talking about introducing a sweater to Viva.

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