Monday, June 30, 2008

Miniature Newfoundland & The Big, Scary Vacuum Cleaner

From yesterday, a photo of the tiny Newfoundland with her nose buried in the grass. When she's not pulling Max around by the tail, or to trying to start something with big Katy, or faking me out by acting like she's going to kiss my nose and then snatching a chunk of my hair instead — she is rather charming.

She's plagiarized every play out of Katy's book except the chapter on being afraid of loud stuff.

I thought maybe we were going to have a problem with being afraid of loud noises when I got the vacuum out today. She reacted to it exactly like Katy does with all things large and novel. She skirted away, looking back at it with suspicion. To defeat that before it grows into a habit, I took immediate action and did a little 'counter conditioning' using systematic desensitization with her.

The point of systematic desensitization is to introduce gradually more scary things, waiting for signs of relaxation before adding more frightening stimuli. This is a recommended technique for treating phobias.

The systematic desensitization went like so:
I brought her over to the vacuum and sat down with her in my lap, giving her lots of pats and verbal praise. Then I held her paws out to it and made her bat at it, still making all kinds of high pitched googly moogly good puppy sounds. I held the cord out and moved it around to get her attention. I knew she'd think it was a toy, and although I don't want her to chase and chew cords, she has shown an interest in them so I temporarily used that to my advantage.

After she expressed a keen interest in the cord I banged it against the plastic on the vacuum and rubbed it against the corrugated part of the hose. She didn't like that, but I got her to come back using praise and moving the cord around so she could bat it around. The next time, I did the same thing, but quieter.

Then I stood up and moved the vacuum as if I was vacuuming but didn't turn it on. She didn't like that and backed away. So I moved the vacuum backward and away from her and every time she moved forward, I moved the vacuum away from her to make it seem like she was chasing it off. Then I turned it on and continued to do the same thing. She chased it and then got bored and laid down.

Within minutes I was vacuuming right next to her nose.

So, using tried and true principles of behavior modification and learning, in ten minutes I turned a frightened little puppy into a calm one.

I'd love to use this technique with Katy to get her acclimated to strangers, but the number of people who are willing to play guinea pig with a huge, barking dog are vanishingly small. If I could scrounge up some brave volunteers, this plan from the Animal Human Society describes more or less what I'd do. I might have to run some counter conditioning on the volunteers to prep them for their roles, seeing as how they would be frightened of the big black dog!

In any case, given little Yuki's quick learning it will be interesting to see how many trials it takes to get her to learn commands like shake, lie down, back away and give. Katy showed herself to be a star pupil, learning shake in just four trials and the others equally quickly.


ragqueen said...

Wow that's amazing that she got used to it so quickly!

Now you can use the vacuum to brush all that hair off. (we use a shopvac on our newfie).

What a sweetie!

La Alicia said...

she's a smart cookie! it'll be exciting to see what she does next!

Walk in the Woods said...

Ohh mushy, mushy, mushy, mush! I love the newfies and their close cousins the labs!

Who'm I kidding, I love all the four-leggeds!

Luminosities said...

This is great! I'm going to use it on my kitties who also fear the vacumonster.