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STRUCTURING YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR PET
Why: Structure and predictability can be a very important for animals, especially
those that suffer fromanxiety. By providing guidance to the pet during all interactions
and rewarding calm and quiet behavior, you establish a new way of relating to your
pet that rewards desirable behavior and provides added structure and predictability
for the pet. You are also constantly practicing having your pet respond to your
commands when there are relatively few distractions. This will increase the chance
that your pet will be able to focus on you when there are distractions present.
When: This program is integrated into your everyday life and all interactions
with your pet. It is not to be done during a “special training session” but instead is
a fundamental and long-term change in the way you interact with your pet. Every
time you interact with your pet, you should first ask the pet to do a command.
Who: All family members should abide by these new rules for pet interaction. All
dogs in the home can participate.
How: It is important that the human involved in these interactions remains calm,
controlled, and patient. These exercises are not about forcing a dog to respond; it
is a simple request and, if completed correctly, compliance is rewarded. Commands
should be given in a soft, calm voice—do not shout or repeat commands. Say the
pet’s name, then the command, then pause and give the pet a chance to respond.
Use commands that your pet knows: For some pets, you may use the sit command
frequently. For others, they will have a larger repertoire of commands to select from,
such as sit, down, shake, watch me, etc. Noncompliance is not rewarded; essentially
the dog is ignored for noncompliance. However, you can try giving another command
in a few minutes. Once the dog “learns” the new system, they are usually very
Giving attention to your pet: Attention-seeking behaviors such as pawing, barking,
meowing, jumping up, etc., should be ignored—no attention should be given.
This includes eye contact, touching, or speaking to the pet. Attention should not
be given on demand, but either for compliance with a command as described above
or when the pet is calm and quiet. If your pet is asking for attention by standing or
sitting quietly, ask the pet to comply with a command and then pet them. The goal
is not to ignore the pet, but rather ignore the attention-seeking behaviors. If this
is too difficult, try a signaled nonattention time. For a set period of time (perhaps
using a timer), you will not pay any attention to your pet’s demands for attention.
To help the pet understand what is happening, you can also add a signal such as a
towel or blanket on your lap. When the time begins, place the towel on your lap and
ignore the pet. When the time limit has ended, remove the towel. For the rest of the
time try to ignore attention-seeking attempts and have your pet earn all things. As
your pet learns what the signal means, they often will go lay down when they see
the towel come out.
Structured interactive time: All pets need social interactions, play, exercise, and
grooming. Make sure to incorporate these into your regular routine on a predictable
basis. If the pet knows that play time, a walk, or petting are forthcoming, they often
can be relaxed and calm at other times.
What: As a general rule, your pet should be given a command before engaging
in all interactions. This includes giving any attention, food, access to new areas,
etc., to your pet. While many people are “trained” to give a command to their dog
before giving a treat or a meal, most people give away attention for free. Therefore,
you may need to focus on making sure you request a command prior to all social
interactions with your pet. Listed below are four possible responses from the pet
and the recommended human reaction to these responses. Also noted are common
errors in human response that you should avoid.
If your dog responds immediately to the command: Provide a reward; it may be attention, food, access to a different area, etc. Do not reward non-compliance.
If your dog does not respond to the command: Give no reward and terminate interaction; look away, walk away, etc. Do not repeat the command, do not manipulate the dog into compliance and do not punish.
If your dog anticipates the command and performs it before the request: Ask the dog to perform a different command, then reward it. Do not reward the action if you did not ask for it.
If your dog exhibits aggression during the command request or during delivery of the reward: Aggression always results in social isolation. Immediately turn away from the dog and exit the area, or put the dog in a time-out spot until it has calmed down. This social isolation is a form of punishment and gives the dog a chance to calm down. Do not interactively punish your dog: aggressive dogs are aroused, and interactive corrections may escalate the aggression. Trying to escort it to a time-out spot might be dangerous; if this is the case, just leave the dog alone where the incident occurred.
Drs Horwitz and Neilsen, Canine and Feline Behavior
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