Introducing Rollo; active, happy, speedy puppy with bundles of energy and lots of love to give. He is a lurcher (greyhound mix) collie mix, and the best birthday gift a girl could hope for!
He is our newest addition to the family – at 11 weeks old now, he is having his second set of vaccinations (and microchip) this afternoon, meaning he will be able explore the big, wide world beyond the house and garden!
In this, the first puppy “tail”/ tale, we will look at some of the habituation training we’ve been doing with Rollo, to prepare him for the big, wide world out there!
Firstly, for those who are unfamiliar with habituation training, this is training that teaches a dog to be okay with a stimulus. Basically, you acclimatise the dog to the stimulus you’re exposing it to.
It is important, when habituating your dog to a stimulus, that you do not comfort your dog. If a dog acts fearfully or anxiously to something they need not fear, and comfort is given to that reaction it will reinforce the fear/ anxiety to that stimulus. By comforting your dog you are reinforcing to them that their reaction was correct.
Some of the main sound stimuli that dogs often show fear toward are:
• Vacuum cleaner
• Loud vehicles
To habituate Rollo to these sounds, he first had to be exposed to the sounds and his reaction gauged, to know where to begin.
Let’s look at the first two; thunder and fireworks – not sound stimuli that you can schedule training around, as you often get little to no warning of when these sounds may come up in life (you can’t always rely on the weather forecast ).
We are fortunate to have a (modest) surround sound system in our living room, as well as a Chromecast device which allows us to play sounds and videos via the TV and the surround sound. So, to introduce Rollo to the stimuli of thunder and fireworks we found videos and sound clips online, and played them through the surround sound. Starting off at a very low volume (which we struggled to hear, but Rollo (having superior dog hearing) could hear just fine) we played several different videos – firstly of fireworks, then the same with thunder.
Rollo was unsure the first few times we played the fireworks – he sought comfort the first time, and whined a little in his uncertainty. We carried on as normal with what we were doing, and encouraged Rollo to continue playing with his toys. We did this several times over a couple of weeks – after a week he just didn’t react any more, but continued with whatever he was doing (playing, eating, napping, etc.) at the time.
After the first few times, when Rollo’s reaction was lessening, we increased the volume each time to continue habituating him to this noise. The volume increases didn’t seem to get much of a response from Rollo, other than that he seemed to acknowledge the sudden noise interrupting his day. During the second week, with the volume at a suitable level Rollo had completely given up on reacting in any kind of negative or anxious way to the fireworks stimulus.
We repeated this training method with playing thunder through the surround sound with Rollo, and his reaction was significantly less to the thunder than to the fireworks. This may be due to the firework habituation training having gone so well, or simply because Rollo is unaffected by the noise (my previous dog, Barney, used to love to bark at thunder and fireworks just to join in being noisy – not out of any fear or anxiety). After just over a week of doing this with thunder, Rollo was showing no negative or anxious reactions – success!
We still occasionally play thunder and fireworks, just to keep the habituation successful whilst he’s still young. The real test of this habituation training will be when he hears thunder and fireworks for real, for the first time!
Throughout the above, Rollo was also being habituated to the vacuum cleaner – let’s face it, I can’t not vacuum so he needs to gets used to that! We have a Henry Hoover, which Rollo was very suspicious of at first, as Henry was a lot bigger than him when we first brought Rollo home! Rollo pawed and mouthed at Henry with his strange nose and funny feet! He wasn’t too fussed on Henry until the noise came… That spooked Rollo the first time – he barked and whined and ran away from Henry. Rollo soon settled down as we didn’t react to Henry (or comfort Rollo) and he soon realised the noise was nothing to fear.
But then came the movement; a noisy Henry in the corner is one thing, but a noisy Henry moving around the house is another! Using Henry to actually vacuum (not just so Rollo could get used to the sound) sparked the barking and whining and retreating reaction again. Again, we didn’t react or comfort, and we (whoever wasn’t manning the vacuum) encouraged Rollo to continue what he was doing.
Whilst Rollo doesn’t react so extremely any more to Henry, he still usually stops what he’s doing and watches from a safe distance until Henry is quiet and back in his corner. This is a good reaction in my book, for the time being, as Rollo is not fearful or anxious, but we will continue to work on this as Rollo also isn’t completely comfortable around the noisy, moving Henry (he may never be, but dog training is an ongoing thing).
Finally, when we’ve had Rollo on his various leads in the front and back gardens (lead training will be covered in a future “Puppy Tail”), we’ve used the opportunity to allow him to become habituated to the noises of the neighbours, the street and various vehicles.
Our back garden backs onto a train track, with fairly frequently running trains (at all hours of the day and night). Foxes often run around the neighborhood, and there are plenty of birds and squirrels around too! Cats roaming their territories, and dogs in neighbouring gardens or being walked down our street, are frequent sights. Cars, motorcycles, buses, lorries, cyclists and pedestrians are also frequent down our (relatively busy) little road. All of these things, and more, have caught Rollo’s attention and sparked a reaction in the beginning.
Trains and other vehicles, and the local wildlife, Rollo just takes in his stride now – they’re just part of the background noise to life. People and other dogs he so badly wants to interact with, which is only natural whilst he’s confined to the house and gardens – this training will continue on walks in the outside world. Cats, he doesn’t (at the moment) react to in any way as they stay well out of reach.
He does still enjoy watching the world go by from the driveway, now he’s used to the noises and activities going on, on our road. The main thing is that Rollo has been given the time and the training to acclimatise to these everyday stimuli, so these things are less of a worry when he is able to go for walks beyond the realm of his home and gardens.
All images are either open source, Google images, or my own – or photos donated for use by the pet owners.
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