That said, it is up to me to do my part: I have learned to recognize my triggers, to use biofeedback and breathing techniques to calm myself.
I know that if I don’t resolve the episode, leaving myself at a chronic level of anxiousness it will affect a puppy’s concentration and even create misbehavior or insecurity. So for my sake and the puppy’s, there has to be some preventative/theraputic daily work on my part to come down to a state of calm and try to stay there.
A dog can help, they can help tremendously, but they aren’t a cure-all.
So every day I use a biofeedback tape to practice my ability to consciously control my body’s responses and desensitize to the triggers I know about. If I have an unexpected difficulty or am just in a generally higher state of anxiousness, I also have a theta brain wave CD to use like an emergency inhaler.
Now for the pup
I really don’t know how programs train their dogs. But I have found a way that works for me. As I learn more from others who have a program dog or have owner trained, I’ll pass on what I’ve learned and maybe pick up some ideas for myself. Until then, this is how I go about it:
I want them to notice when I’m anxious. Most puppies are awfully quick to notice. Then I want to cue a pup to do what isn’t normal for most dogs–come to me when I’m anxious, and touch me. Many dogs would rather go away from an anxious, upset person. And those that do come to you are often anxious themselves.
That means when they come I need to make sure to create positive associations with coming to me despite my mood, so they can be reassured and calm when I’m not. That will require lots of reinforcement, and my being able to quickly relax and respond to them with affection and play.
Beginning moods is what I called this because anxiety doesn’t always turn up as anxious: sometimes it manifests as irritable, or overreacting to a situation, or sadness. I want a pup to know they can directly affect my mood whatever it is.
I begin easy and mild, usually on the floor or bed with my pup just chillin. Then I will think about something I know will make me anxious or irritated or sad (one at a time!). When the pup notices, I click and give lots of rewards, then lure them to touch me for another click and many more rewards.
The biggest reward though is my changing my mood to happy and affectionate as fast as possible.
I will practice one of each “mood” (anxious, sad, irritable), with a rewarded notice, and a bigger rewarded touch, followed by a resolution to the “mood”.
I will only to the three one time, then we go on about our day, and maybe later on do it all again. I’m writing now about little tots, just 8-16 weeks old, so slow and easy is the way to start.
As they grow and know they can affect my mood by touch I will occasionally delay my mood change by a short amount of time so they gradually learn to continue the touch response. When they are much older I will teach a full body contact response. But for now, slow and easy.