I’m super excited about to share this blog post with you for two reasons: 1) because this training works and 2) because it helps take the stress out of our animals’ environments at what could be considered very scary times.
We have numerous different types of animals here with different histories. A deaf dog, birds that have lost their homes, a hand-shy Rottie (barely anymore), a mini-pig that comes for training (also a prey animal), and a vulture that belongs to a local wildlife rehabilitation center. There is a mixture of predator and prey. One thing they all have in common is that events such as fireworks can be a very stressful time for them, no matter their histories.
I want to share with you what I do to prepare for events like this both, expected and unexpected. Last week I wrote a blog post specifically for preparing companion parrots for the 4th of July and other events out of our control. You can find it by clicking here. I don’t have just birds here so I wanted to write this post for all animal owners and caretakers.
So many things happen around us that are out of our control that can scare our animals. I’ll explain what I do and don’t do to set them up for the least amount of stress induced on them as possible. I used to label this as ‘putting the unpredictable on cue’. With the move here to our center, this came in very handy. Workers were around here for months after the move. They had nail guns, tall ladders, strange objects the animals had never seen before, and more. Way before this scenario happened though I got them ready for it. I would do this by saying “One, two, three!” and they would learn through continuing experience that a ball was tossed to them. Then over time I began tossing other similar but different objects. This got them prepared for “Not sure what it is but it has a fun outcome.” That is me anthropomorphizing by assuming what they are thinking, but it gets my point across to you quickly based on the body language I was reading.
I then started adding different objects or scenarios on the count of “One, two, three!” Before anyone could bark, scream,
run, or fly away I would start clapping my hands and telling them what a nice job they were doing. One thing I never did was coddle them and ask them if they are ok. I want to empower them. Another thing I tried my hardest not to do was add a larger and scarier object than they were ready for. I did this by slowly making the objects larger and more different. I also did this by slowly adding in bigger noises in small increments all paired with positive reinforcers. Remember, we are not the ones that determine the reinforcers. The animals are. We just deliver them as consequences for desired behaviors. Also remember that positive reinforcers are not always food. Around here, food is only used as a positive reinforcer half of the time.
This is how we prepare for The Fourth of July. This is how we prepare for things such as the neighbors cutting down a tree, construction work happening in front of the house, etc. So many times I see people taking their dogs to parades and other events that could be overwhelming for them. Watch and understand their body language and train for these large events. What happens next? I get a call with someone telling me their dog is barking uncontrollably or will no longer get in the car. If your dog or other animal is not prepared for this type of event, train them for it. Train them for their vet visits. (future blog topic)
As you see in the photo above, we had a tree being cut down. Inside the center is where all of the animals were. Could we have moved them? Yes, but we didn’t have to. They are trained for this abrupt environmental event and change. I even took Quincy, our Rottie out in the center so she could get closer for the added training. You can see her level of engagement and comfort I show in the video below. I even brought the tree cutters in the center so the animals could continue to have positive encounters with changes. The tree cutting guy even left his big white hat on with his orange protective ear gear. As we approached Rico’s (umbrella cockatoo) cage I told the guy “Ok, you may have to take your hat off.” That was a note to me that Rico could use some additional training and exposure to big things on people’s heads. The big boom truck, the guys walking around, the thud on the ground as tree trunks were being dropped was all great exposure and training for the animals. A key note here, this is not the point in which I would begin training animals for this level of intense changes.
I took some videos for you since someone on my Facebook page suggested that I write about this. Earlier in the week someone suggested that I write this for dog and pig owners as well. So here you have it. Let me know your thoughts. What do you want to see or read next?