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Nita Gandara: Building Resilience In Dogs (Shownotes)

In this week's podcast Emily and I interviewed dog trainer, Nita Gandera, KPA, CPDT-KSA about the importance of building resilience in dogs. Nita has over twenty years of experience training dogs. She is a Karen Pryor Academy graduate and is skills and knowledge assessed through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT). She is also an Obedience judge for the Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA), A Barn Hunt Judge, a Certified Trick Dog Trainer, a Stunt Dog Judge, and a CGC Evaluator. She competes with her dogs in Obedience, Rally, Agility, Barn Hunt, Scent Work, Carting/Drafting, Herding, and other fun events. She says that she trains for excellence, but always remembers that both ends of the leash must have fun.

As always, our conversation ranged a bit, but we mostly stayed on track as we discussed the necessity of creating resilient dogs, and offered several tips to help you build resilience in your dog, whether your dog is a new pup or a new rescue, or you simply want to help your dog face life with fewer fears.

We discussed several things that need defining and we will visit those here as well as provide links so that you can hear the facts straight from the horse's mouth. Since I did not invent these techniques, I defer to the originators in the event that I make an error of understanding.

Emily mentioned having a CER to something, and never defined it, and our conversation raged a bit too far afield for anyone to go back and define it. CER is a term commonly used by dog trainers and it refers to something called a Conditioned Emotional Response. The notion of a Conditioned Emotional Response originates with an experiment conducted by scientists John B. Watson, and grad student Rosalie Rayner in 1920, before ethics was really a thing. A nine-month-old-boy called Little Albert was exposed to a white rat, and at the same time a loud noise was produced, which frightened the child. This was repeated multiple times until just the sight of the rat would cause Little Albert to cry - producing a classically conditioned (Pavlovian) response to the rat.

Dog trainers do not use CER to torture little children. Rather we use it when we try to solve fear issues by pairing the feared object/situation to a happy event. The idea is to create a linkage between the previously frightening object and something wonderful. Here is a synopsis of the Little Albert Experiment.

We also discussed Nothing in Life is Free (NILF) which is a training strategy that some trainers utilize to address serious behavior issues in dogs. The idea is that the dog works for every bite of food, usually by performing behaviors. Many trainers use some form of NILF but do not demand the rigid adherence to behavior of the original. Nita and Emily both discussed scatter feeding, for example, where the dog 'works' for food by searching for it on the floor.

Whatever form of NILF is used, it helps the dog begin to understand that they can work for food, and begins to build drive for food that can then be used to alter behavior. Many dogs with little or no training do not understand that food comes as a result of work, and therefore will not work for it. A dog unwilling to work for food is incredibly difficult to train.

Box Work is a technique used by some trainers to help build resilience in dogs. Both Nita and I use this technique to try to build resilience and focus in dogs. I will not attempt to describe Box work here, rather I will refer you to The Canine Paradigm Podcast #4, which describes it in detail.

Flooding is a form of training that involves overwhelming the learner with the feared situation or object (this is the classic parent throwing the child afraid of water into the pool). The method, is not used by most ethical trainers except in situations where it cannot be helped. The learner, in flooding, often has no control over their situation, which logically increases the fear response. In some cases the learner learns that the situation did not kill them after all, and the fear is resolved; however in many cases the learner feels more fear and the feeling of hopelessness justifies the initial fear and makes it worse. There is almost never a reason to use flooding to train a frightened animal.

Flooding can also seriously damage the relationship between learner and teacher, and therefore should only be used with the utmost caution in certain circumstances by skilled professionals, and only when no other option is reasonably available.

We discussed Control Unleashed again by Leslie McDevitt. It appears that everyone should read this book!

BAT is shorthand for Behavior Adjustment Training and was invented by Grisha Stewart. Most rewards-based trainers use some form of BAT to help dogs with fear, especially those afraid of other dogs or people. I pull heavily from BAT in my training with leash reactive dogs (leash reactive means that the dogs bark and scream when they see another dog, or person when walking on leash.)

Nita brought up Conditioned Relaxation (CR) as a calming technique that she trains dogs to help them relax. CR is taught by several different people, she mentioned Training Between The Ears (TBTE), and I misattributed the other person whose CR protocols I use, which is Kayce Cover . CR initially uses a hands on technique (they differ between practitioners) to create relaxation, and then once the state of relaxation is achieved it is placed on cue.

Contrafreeloading is the name of a bizarre scientific discovery that animals (including humans, but excluding domestic cats) will work for food rather than acquire it for free when given the option. This illustrates the need for animals to 'work' and problem solve is hard wired into many species, and shows the need to provide work for our animal's well-being. Here is a great overview of contra freeloading with links and videos.

As always we brought up a few random, non dog specific things, Emily brought up Brene' Brown (who I had never heard of!) and the acronym FFT which means F'ing First Time! Wow! What a discovery! She has a ton of amazing content that I will investigate in depth when I get a chance!

I brought up Everest several times, and made mention of John Krakauer's book, Into Thin Air, the harrowing account of the 1996 disaster on Mt Everest. I still get the chills thinking about this book!

We want to thank Nita for her time, and putting up with the 20 minute delay while I cursed at my microphone. We will want to have Nita on again as we discuss dog sports, because not only is she busy doing all the sports mentioned above, but she has created an online sport called Circusport.

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