His high arousal levels are the root cause of most of the training issues we have. We work on this together, if not daily, then 5 times a week. Controlled play, asking him to come back down, playing again, changing reinforcers are the name of the game.
Since we attended Craig Ogilvie’s workshop on Interactive Play a few weeks ago, I now have a structure to work within. I don’t work rigidly within it, but use the principles as a basis for these sessions. We are just back in from a session. A rare hot, late summer afternoon here, means I have to watch how hot he gets as when he gets too hot, he can become over aroused more quickly and take longer to calm down.
One of the things Craig showed us during the workshop was to stop play after a period (with him after 40-60s), take him by the collar and offer a high value piece of food. I then have to pet and stroke him, and when he calms down, the game can start again. This works on a number of levels. The taking of the collar becomes a cue for him to calm down. Whether he takes or refuses the food (he won’t take food if too aroused) indicates his arousal level. Once he offers calmer behaviour (less panting, more attention to me) the continuation of the game acts to reinforce these behaviours. The collar touch cue can then be used in time on other locations and situations to ask him to calm down. This has already started to transfer.
How I deliver food is also interesting (at least I think so). Tossing and catching the food is more of a game so he will more readily do that. Taking food from my hand is next. I can then drop or toss food on to the ground and ask him to search for it. This one takes more calmess as he has to engage a different part of his brain to concentrate on the searching. All of these allow me to gauge where his head is.
I kept the session reasonably short today. I also added in throwing the Kongs for him to chase and search for. We did about six throws. This is a highly arousing activity for him and one which he has found difficult to come down from in the past. After the toy throwing, I put the Kongs on the other side of the fence where he could see them but not reach them. I offered him a drink of water which he took and then walked away from him. He looked at the Kongs, nice calm behaviour, just looking. When he looked away from them and towards me, I marked this and then offered another game of tug. A few times he raced towards me and played. I then asked for an “out”. This was reinforced with a variety of options. More play with me, some food and then play, going back to look at the Kongs (no access to them) or going to his water bowl. The result was more interaction with me, letting him choose the reinforcers. I will try to get some video of this over the weekend.
At the end of the session, I put all toys away in the bag, spent some time walking around the area with him and then brought him home. He is now lying at my feet sleeping. Six months ago he would have worked himself up sufficiently that it would have taken him and hour to switch off when he came home. A work in progress but some good results today.