Happy Birthday to Laev! and Musings on Arousal & Stress Relief

Hard to believe it, but my little girl is turning 8 tomorrow.

Yes, at one point I could hold and cuddle the Laevatein. Wow.

Yes, at one point I could hold and cuddle the Laevatein. Wow.

That’s a senior Doberman. Longevity certificates are awarded at age 10. Not exactly what I think of when I watch her tearing after a squirrel or gallumphing gleefully about the house kill-shaking a toy. But then, compared to Shakespeare at age 13, she’s a young ‘un.

She celebrated early with a visit to Posidog and Decoy Chad for some Mondio bitework. It was our first training session in months, as I’d been busy with book stuff and KPA stuff and travel stuff and general stuff and couldn’t get out for a while, and she was pumped.

Arousal & Zoomies

I went out to the car with our gear, and she started bouncing and tap dancing. It’s just over 3 hours of driving to training, but it’s a trip she’s happy to make! I talked to her as I opened and loaded the car, but before I could get her kennel door open, her excitement hit limit break and she bolted. Running is her most efficient stress relief, even if it’s taking her further from where she actually wants to be. Funny thing, stress relief.

(Don’t laugh, we humans do it too, when we get upset about weight gain and indulge in comfort food, or feel so much pressure from backlogged work that we watch a TV show and let work pile up a bit more. Nah, I’m sure you’ve never known anyone to do such things, but….)

So there went Laev at Mach 8, tearing about the acreage like a banshee, and I knew darn well it’s just because she was so excited to be getting in the car that she couldn’t get in the car. Arousal, go fig. Somebody ought to train that dog, I thought with a self-mocking laugh. Heh, somebody ought to write a book or something.

Arousal & Direction

So we got to Ohio anyway, and I declared a no-goals training day — it was all about Laev having a great time, as my attempt to make up for months of neglect while I worked on other things. So I brought her out in her harness and into the training area, ready to go, with absolutely no cues or request for control.

And Laev, who had been dancing and singing as we entered, looked at Chad ready for the bestest of games, and immediately gave me eye contact in heel position.

Okay, so this dog who got too excited to wait for me to open the kennel door before zooming off is the same dog now so excited by a much bigger trigger that she’s offering self-control and trained behaviors? What gives?

Waiting in limbo, with no suggestions or feedback as to what behaviors would get her what she wanted, was a very difficult task. Without a clear history of reinforcement for specific behaviors, she did what came naturally — ran off the arousal.

Even presented with a much more powerful trigger, having a clear understanding of how to get what she wanted made the scenario simpler for her. She knows from previous experience that the fastest way to get to the decoy is to listen to my suggestions 🙂 and so she automatically checked in with me. Instead of being in limbo, she had a reliable framework, and so she was able to manage her arousal much more easily.

Takeaway message — it ain’t the excitement, it’s what you have installed to handle it.

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About Laura VanArendonk Baugh CPDT-KA KPACTP

Laura was born at a very young age and started playing with animals immediately after. She never grew out of it, and it looks to be incurable. She is the author of the bestselling FIRED UP, FRANTIC, AND FREAKED OUT. She owns Canines In Action, Inc. in Indianapolis, speaks at workshops and seminars, and is also a Karen Pryor Academy faculty member.

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One Comment

  1. Oh! Very interesting look into the psychology behind the behaviors. Thanks!

    -Jen B.

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