What are you talking about?

I am a German Shepherd Dog fancier, meaning that I am deeply involved in the exhibition and promotion of the breed.  My dogs are shown in various sports (agility, obedience, conformation, flyball, etc.) and when you exhibit in such sports, it obviously involves training.  A lot of it.  So what’s today’s blog about?  Well, it’s about dog training!  Dealing with animals in general when you have Tourette’s.

Dogs, unlike people, are not verbal creatures.  Yes, they have all sorts of noises they will make, but while those noises DO mean things, dogs communicate primarily through body language.  This means (after all the knowledge I’ve acquired through the years), that it is more effective to train a dog using your body language so you add clarity to your communication.  When you have TS, that communication system is broken down and can cause issues between yourself and what you’re trying to teach your fine companion.  Because of this, my dogs need to essentially work harder than other dogs.  They need to understand when I’m ACTUALLY using my body to “speak” to them, and to understand when to ignore my body and follow my verbal commands, even though it’s not natural for them to do so.

In formal obedience, when my dogs are in heel position, they look up at me, but I can control where they actually walk simply by rolling my shoulder forward or backwards.  Due to the tics in my upper body, it is very easy for me to push my dog out of position, and I have to teach them all to IGNORE that body language in that specific setting.  They also have to know that when I flail my arms and yell, it has nothing to do with how they are performing at that moment.

Now obviously dogs cannot come to this conclusion that I’m not mad at them without reassurance and more training.  Every time I flail and my dog does not react, they are heavily rewarded for it, and I keep the rewards high and relatively frequent until finally, they do not react anymore.  My big male, who is as bombproof as they come, caught on very quickly, and whether I flail, yell, or even hit him (it happens sometimes, and is not intentional), he does not cringe, duck, or otherwise show signs of stress.  He maintains his focus and position and continues to work (it’s one of the many reasons he makes an excellent service dog).

My little puppy does not have the same temperament as him and is much more sensitive overall.  It is going to be a longer endeavor to teach her that my random twitches are not intended to do her harm, and that she absolutely must maintain her position, regardless of what my body is telling her.  She will learn that more often that not my body is “lying” to her.

My own dogs, since they live with me and see me everyday, obviously “come to terms” with the fact that my spasms are, in their situation, quite normal, which does come in handy when they meet people with similar issues out and about.  But when I need to work with other dogs, I need to work much harder to gain their trust, because they do not know me, and they do not understand that my body acting out of sorts is normal for me.

I need to work harder to keep myself  “quiet” around a new dog, though obviously tics “Slip through”.  Over time,  just as with my dogs, the majority of dogs do not see me as a threat, and I can develop a good rapport with them.  Other dogs do and will see me as a threat, and it’s something I always keep in mind.  Working with dogs, you can and will get bit.  Working with dogs when you have a neurological disorder that causes you to respond unpredictably to various stimuli?  Deeeeeeeeeeefinitely gonna git bit and run into some other issues.

But, it’s always worth it for the dogs.

Signing off until tomorrow, so as always….

Flail on,
– Classical Spazz

 

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~ by ClassicalSpazz on January 13, 2011.

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