Little things can make a difference

You can never get bored working with animals there is usually something around the corner that provides another opportunity to learn, laugh, scratch your head or ask yourself why didn’t I think of that earlier. It is easy to get lost in a particular issue and in doing so not always see the little things that are right under you nose! It’s those simple little things that can often make a difference.

Earlier on this year I had the opportunity to work with a Customs dog. A Customs officer and their dog are a team that will work together for several years until the dog reaches retirement. The team is required to work, searching a wide of variety of situations and environments. A dog will encounter different types of surfaces, distractions and levels of intensity as they work. Having an ability to adapt and remain focused as they are working is important and contributes to the dog being able to work safely and effectively.

Sam is an 18 month old Black Labrador male who has a fairly sensitive temperament. He was generally under confident and was not settled when travelling in vehicles. The residual affects from travelling were also impacting on Sam’s training.

During an initial observation session with Sam, we incorporated some ground work and TTouch tools which helped us to identify some of the things that Sam was finding a little difficult. These included avoidance of different surfaces and we noted some habitual postures and positioning. Sam’s respiration also increased and he displayed several calming signals.

Although Sam was not settled in the vehicle it was necessary for him to travel everyday. His handler would use a toy to help him into the vehicle rather than place him in it. When travelling Sam would display a hunched posture and lowered head. He would stand still and was quite stiff occasionally turning around before resuming the same stance.

Whilst not wanting to place too much focus on the vehicle it was important to change something to help Sam cope when travelling. Using a body wrap certainly did this as Sam raised his head and began looking around.

Over the next few of sessions Sam was given time to explore and investigate the different areas that we were going to work in. He found it hard to turn his body to the left and would always stand across his handler when stationery. Using two points of contact and groundwork helped to influence change as Sam began to explore moving differently.

When we all started to work together Sam had not been with his handler very long and they were still establishing a bond. Integrating the TTouches into grooming and play sessions within their daily routines helped to develop this bond. At first Sam would often move away if touched around his hind area. The Zig Zag touch was a great introduction touch to use which gave us a start on which we could build. Sam would often hold his favourite toy whilst bring groomed. The change in his posture was quite marked as would raise his head and was generally more relaxed in his body. This gave us the opportunity to introduce different TTouches to more specific area where tension patterns had been noted.

Following the initial sessions Sam was a little more settled in the vehicle but was still not relaxed. During the next session we worked with Sam on a long lead around the vehicle and introduced the technique of stroking the lead. Sam made all the decisions whether to stay near or walk away, the choice was his. He started to show more interest in the vehicle and then much to our surprise placed his front paws on the entrance to the back of the vehicle. Over the next few days Sams handler continued to work like this for short periods when possible and by the end of the week Sam was jumping in and out of the vehicle quite happily. This was one of those why didn’t I think of this earlier moments, as a little thing that made a big difference. As soon as Sam had been given back some choice and control of the situation it was quite a turning point, he progressed quickly and the wrap was no used as he was a lot more settled and lay down whilst travelling. This progress translated into an overall change in Sam’s general demeanour, a bit like dropping a pebble in a pond and watching the subsequent ripple effect.

In the latter stages of working with Sam his confidence had increased considerably and he was enjoying the training. On one occasion he was searching in a cargo area and had climbed onto the top of high stack of boxes and considered jumping down to his handler. Needless to say after this adventure we reintroduced some groundwork and the 2 points of contact to help develop his self control and focus. We wanted to make sure that he would make his way back down to his handler the way he went up, rather than expecting his handler to catch him if he jumped!

Although I have observed many dogs benefit from groundwork, it never ceases to amaze me what a wonderful tool it is. It has many benefits but being able to gear the course to the individual dog not only helps to set them up for success, but also move on setting positive changes in motion.

Over a period of 2 months we all worked together over several sessions, gradually using a variety of the TT tools. These techniques are such valuable tools but the big reminder for me was how some of the simple things we use can make a difference. Spending time with Sam developing that bond and trust and giving back some freedom and choice made a huge change for him and he hasn’t looked back.

Sam has now graduated as a Customs dog and is working happily with his handler. His enthusiasm and enjoyment for work is second to none!

Lib Roe

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