Its written in reference to Agility, but parts of it can be applied to just about anything.*
Its from the Feb. 2006 issue of "Dog World" and written by* Terry Long.*
Stress case: Understanding Displacement Behaviors
The little terrier kicked in his turbo-blasters and shot over the third jump in the sequence, easily outdistancing his handler.* “Jasper, no, Jasper! COME!”* Not only did Jasper not come, he raced away, darting here there, around the teeter, under the dog-walk, getting farther and farther from his handler.* Suddenly, he screeched to a halt , his attention riveted on a clump of grass he had run over several times just seconds before.* *His handler continued calling him, becoming angrier and angrier as Jasper ignored his calls.*
Is Jasper ‘blowing off” his handler?* Does he need recall training, or more exercise before coming to class?* Was there a treat on the ground, or a bitch in heat that caught his attention?
Probably, the answer is “none of the above.” Jasper is more than likely practicing the ancient cross-species art of “displacement activity.”* Ethologists first described this phenomenon in terms of repetitive, compulsive behaviors in a variety of species, noting that such behaviors serve to temporarily reduce anxiety.* That is, when an animal is faced with what it sees as stress or an unresolvable conflict, it will substitute another behavior to help cope with the situation.*
Although canine behavior specialists use the term to describe behaviors used by dogs that suffer from obsessive compulsive disorders (flank sucking, fly catching, light chasing, tail chasing etc.), companion and performance dog trainers use the term to describe behaviors they see in normal dogs placed in stressful situations.*
Now we can look at Jasper’s situation in a new light.* Rather than assuming that the dog is “blowing off” his handler, might he be so stressed (we’ll get to why later) that he is using displacement behaviors common to his species?* Listed below are common displacement behaviors:
-The “zoomies” (running wildly)
-scratching (acting itchy)
We see this with dogs on the start line that, all of the sudden, sit and scratch intensely, while other dogs may blow off steam by racing wildly around the course, seeming oblivious to their handler’s calls.* Obedience trainers see it when they give a dog a command, and the dog suddenly looks away.*
Assuming that the dog does not suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder, there are other underlying causes to consider.*
Temperament.* Know your dog’s temperament.* A dog that is ‘soft’ may not have much innate tolerance for corrections; even a light ‘eh-eh’ can affect these dogs’ ability to perform.* A technique one handler uses on one dog might not be appropriate for yours.*
Novice Dogs.* One of the most common stressors in training is when trainers push too hard and too fast for advanced performance from a novice dog.* This is especially true in agility, a sport that many of us can make look so easy to the neophyte.* It is not hard to want to run a novice dog through an entire sequence before it has the skills to do so.* It can also be difficult for an experienced handler to remember to go back to all the basics with a new dog.* Advancing before a dog is ready can cause undue stress.*
Handler Skills.* Handlers new to the sport are still perfecting their own skills.* As a result, signals given to the dog are often less than clear, might come late, or even be non-existent.* This often causes the dog to take the wrong obstacle, which in turn causes the handler to “correct” the dog.* Stress is bound to occur from the mixed signals followed by corrections.* Many agility instructors are now making more of an effort to teach handlers specific handling skills before adding the dog to the equation.* Improved handling is critical to giving clear signals to the dog.*
Even some experienced handlers fall prey to increasing the stress of training.* This can occur when a handler’s style includes the use of numerous “call-offs” instead of pro-active handling strategies.* For example, such a handler might use body language* that tells the dogs to drive forward only to then switch direction and use a loud verbal command to call the dog away from an off-course obstacle.* Frequent call-offs can cause frustration and stress for many dogs.*
Corrections.* Verbal, physical, or psychological corrections (timeouts, shunning, inadvertent ignoring, etc.) can add stress to the learning experience.* Corrections may result from poor training techniques (raising criterion too fast) or from the handling errors mentioned above.*
Criterion and reinforcement.* Advance-plan each training session to ensure that the specific exercise is geared toward the dog’s current ability, only gradually increasing difficulty.* Pushing too fast often leads to frustration and stress for both the handler and dog.* This often happens, for example, when an owner assumes that since his dog performs a solid sit or stay at home, he can perform at the same level at a public park with dogs and kids playing nearby.* Distraction training is often underestimated as part of the process of increasing criterion.*
Closely related to the setting of criteria is the rate of reinforcement used in training.* Make sure you provide generous reinforcement for effort, as well as for a job well done.* It is rather common to start taking performance for granted.* Reinforcement is powerful feedback to the dog that knows what he is doing is right.* Inadvertently withholding that feedback can add confusion – and stress – in training.*
Displacement behaviors should be a signal to handlers that their dogs are conflicted or stressed.* For Sharon Adams, of Garden Grove, Calif., that meant addressing her dog Nikita’s distraction and reactivity around other dogs.* It became clear to Adams’ instructor that Nikita’s inconsistent performance anxiety had nothing to do with a lack of basic training or clear signals from Adams, who reported that Nikita’s performance at home was fast, fun, and focused.* “In class Nikita would move slowly, sniff the ground, stop in front of a jump and freeze, and sometimes just run off to go after another dog,” Adams says.* “She does have space issues with other dogs.* At home it’s completely different.* She’s focused, fast, and precise.* She loves doing agility.”*
Adams embarked on a plan that included increasing distraction training outside of class and lowering criterion in class, while raising her rate of reinforcement and making herself more irresistible.* “Since she has space issues with other dogs, I asked classmates if they would give us the space we needed so I could keep her focused on me and not worry about the other dogs.* Instead of running a whole sequence, I would surprise her with toys and treats after just a few obstacles.* Fast performance was also rewarded with a tug and treat toy.* Playing games in class made it more fun for her.”* *
With a lot of patience and perseverance, Adams has almost entirely eliminated Nikita’s displacement behaviors.* “I am seeing more consistency in speed and focus in class and at trials – and she is actually having fun in class now.”*
Isn’t that what this sport is all about?*
I just thought it was interesting - parts of it definitely apply to Zeke's actions in the ring so I figured other people might be able to gain something from it too.
And yes, I did type that entire thing - I couldn't find an online version to link to.* *:P
Zeke RN, agility miscreant and CGC failure
Yes, all those things are indicators of stress. We all need to learn how to deal with our own stress and help our partners deal with it as well. Caleb's stress in the Utility ring is evident by him running into me, jumping up and grabbing my sleeve. He yawns a lot, too. All things we need to work through. Bless you for typing all that!!!
Ruger definitely does the "move slowly" and the "look away" in the obedience ring. Also, I've run into a lot of problems because when I train I offer lots of reward, be it a simple smile or an enthusiatic "yes!" on my part, all these things help Ruger understand he is doing a good job. Then.. when I get to a show and I'm in the ring and I cannot do anything other than give commands, Ruger stresses and thinks he's doing wrong (when in fact he is doing right) and he will begin to second guess himself and then make mistakes.
That's one part of obedience I've never understood. I see absolutely NO reason why any good dog trainer, dog/human team would ever work together without constant reward (verbal or body language) for the dog. To me this is one aspect of Obedience that is flat out stupid. In essence, at higher levels of obedience all we are doing is teaching our dog to perform a trick on his own... it really is not working together with our dog.
I wouldn't want Obedience to become as relaxed as Rally is, but I think when the dog is working away from you and he is doing it correctly a good "yes" would be called for to help his motivation.
Just my opinion
Why can't you smile at him in the ring?* I smile at Caleb all the time.* On the halts when we make eye contact again to check in.* When I say "ready".* When I turn and face him on the signals, etc.* I use the smile as a reward in the ring cause I can always smile at my dog.* No where in the rules does it tell me anything different! But, it has to be the same smile I give when I train and not a stress-filled not normal smile.Originally Posted by raian
I have been docked points for smiling. No kidding. Especially if the smile has come as the dog was doing something correctly and I hadn't been smiling before hand (judge pointed this out to me). Now I just try to smile all the time But yes, I've been docked and I know other people who have been docked. Can't remember the judges name, but it was in Novice B. on the recall.
Interesting cause the one who really emphasizes it is the OTCh/handler/instructor/judge that I take classes from! I do smile all the time, though. It isn't a big fake type of smile but a smile none the less. I know one lady that did one of those big unnatural smiles and got in trouble not only with the judge but her dog freaked out!
I don't think smiling at your dog is a standard deduction. Every judge has their quirks. It's unfortunate you ran into one early in your career. Smiling has been discussed on another obedience forum. It has OTCH handlers and judges on it. The judges were all in agreement that if you didn't smile at your dog when they were doing something right they would wonder what was wrong with YOU. None of them said they would deduct points from someone who smiled.
I agree, I cannot believe someone would dock points for SMILING! GAH!
I don't plan smiles, but I am sure they come out when he is doing something right. I know I smile when he takes off like a bullet out of a gun on a recall. ;D
ZRL, that was a very interesting article. Thanks for typing all of that!
Connie and "The Boys":
Angus, Yellow Lab, CGC, RE, CD
Simon, d.b.a. Flat Coated Retriever, CGC, RE, CD
Gone ahead, but forever in my heart:
Crash, Pit Bull x Rottweiler x Golden Retriever
I have had the pleasure of having three odd judges. I don't remember their names, but I do remember their faces (I am notoriously bad with names, but seldom forget a face). Two were men, one was a woman. All the other judges I've had have been wonderful.