I tend to be hypersensitive to stimuli, so the noise, the bustle, the feeling of being crowded can get to me.
Did you ever play dodgeball in school? That’s sorta what a loud and moving crowd in Walmart feels like: I’m the only one on my team and every ball is coming at me.
I haven’t been to the movies in 10 years. The noise level starts messing with my ears, I get a little dizzy. The sudden loud crashes or yells are extra startling to me, like being slapped in the face. The flashing lights or special effects can set off a migraine, with its pain and nausea. I used to love going to the movies, but not anymore.
Since I know I want my puppy to alert and respond with body contact to the various moods that anxiety disorders and PTSD can produce, these “change my mood” games are very important. Great Danes in my experience are highly sensitive to people’s emotions as a breed. In fact it was my late Shabah’s sensitivity and natural responses that gave me the idea of a Great Dane as a service dog.
Anxiety can manifest as anxious, or irritable, or restless and unsettled. There are many uncomfortable moods a puppy can recognize and alert you to. They can even wake you from night terrors because they notice agitation and intense feelings when you’re asleep.
When a pup was just a tiny little 8 week old, I started the mood games very simply, wanting only 1) they recognize it, and 2) come to me. Hopefully by 4 months old, they have those basics down pretty well.
It’s hard to describe the gratefulness a person can feel when you realize the unbounded love they give. “I won’t leave you in it, I won’t leave you alone.”
I saw a funny poster that had a German Shepherd sleeping with a newborn baby. The caption said “world’s oldest security system”. It was meant to be funny, but it’s absolutely true. A dog’s presence can illicit an instinctive feeling of safety. They got your back, all the time. Just having a dog with you is reassuring.
It’s a big job for a little guy, so I take my time training the alert and response. When I began the mood games at 8 weeks old, I was focusing on my own “big three”; sad, irritable, and anxious. The reward for coming to me was an immediate happy response from me.
Now I’m going to add a delayed happy response to help them understand that sometimes it takes longer to relax. I’m also varying the intensity of the mood. I let the puppy recognize a bigger spike of anxious, sad, or irritable and reward them heavily.
Then when they come to me and I pet them, I will wait 2-3 seconds (or 4 seconds or 1 second) before changing my mood, and the click/reward is also very high on the yummy and fun scale.
At this age, they are still very impressionable and sensitive to moods, so I won’t delay more than a few seconds, 5-6 at most. A sensitive puppy can become anxious themselves if what they learned earlier changed my mood doesn’t seem to be working. I don’t want them upset by this exercise.
Building their duration is important, but many puppies will become confused and uncertain themselves if I expose them to too much, too fast. The longest a full frontal anxiety attack really continues is about 20 minutes, so that is the end goal of duration and intensity.
Some puppies will offer more body contact on their own, and if mine does he gets a great big reward. Eventually I will want the pup to come up from a down to a sit and lean on me when higher levels of anxiousness occur, and have my arm around them.
For a really severe attack, I will want the dog to remove me from the crowd or find an exit from the noisy place to get me outta Dodge.
This pic is of JP the PTSD dog, btw. https://www.facebook.com/pages/JPs-Journey-to-PTSD-Service-Dog/209467105753533
That is a future game, and the association of the action will be linked to the intensity of the emotion. But right now, 4-6 months old, I’m focusing on introducing the puppy to varied intensity and duration.
Because a puppy this age is sensitive, I only play this game once or twice a day. If I’m having a problem controlling my emotions, I include the puppy in my biofeedback practice with some cuddles while I relax, and doze with him while listening to the theta brainwave CD’s or other modifying activities. Otherwise, he gets a lot of time with my Mom that day!
What is fascinating to me, is how dogs just have an instinct for finding what makes them feel better, and sometimes what makes them feel better helps me too. After that biofeedback practice, I often take a pup outside to play. We give ourselves a time out, for fun. There’s nothing like a playful puppy to relax you and make you laugh!