Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Staycation in Motion, A+2: Choices

Control is important, for people and for dogs. The more control you have over a situation, the more confident you feel. Why are roller coasters so scary? Because you can't control when the ride stops. Control is doubly important for a shy, melty dog like Abe because it's so easy to override his control and force him into situations he's not comfortable with. He's afraid to be picked up and handled, but he's not going to bite me, either. But if I take away his control of a situation, he's not going to see it as safe. He needs to be able to choose when to get on and off the roller coaster.

So I try to give Abe as much choice about what he does as I can. It's his decision to come out of his crate: I don't try to bribe him with treats or force him or influence his decision. It's his choice to make, he has control over this. Nothing bad will happen either way. If he stays in the crate, he's safe, but it's pretty boring for an adolescent bulldog. If he comes out, it may be scary, but nothing bad will happen (there's nothing he can get into in his two rooms - I have set him up for success there), and he can explore his environment. But it's his choice - he has control.

I do this same process with more outgoing, exuberant fosters, too. Do you know sit? If you sit at the door, I will let you outside to play. If you don't sit, nothing bad happens, but you don't get to go outside. It's your choice. I cannot think of a single situation in which fostering confidence and control would be a bad idea for a dog that has just had his world turned upside down.

Today, Abe is working on a very specific choice: the decision to interact with people. Abe is very conflicted about people. I think that he enjoys some petting, but he is also very afraid. He melts when people notice him, and if they touch him, he freezes and licks his lips - both serious signs of stressing. Petting may be enjoyable to him on some level, but it also significantly adds to his already high stress level.

So today, I laid down flat in the kitchen and hid my face. Abe made the choice to come up to me all on his own! I gave him a few chin scritches (this seems to be his favorite place), and then slowly got up and walked away. I didn't use treats because I don't want to bribe him into a decision he's not comfortable with. We've done this a couple of times, and now he is following me from room to room! He even lets me look at him 50% of the time without pancaking to the floor. People are a little less scary today. <3

Choices = control = confidence

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