Seeking Therapy? What makes a nose work class therapeutic and why.

If you haven’t heard that “nose work is therapeutic for dogs”, you must be living under a rock. No, even then I am sure some dog’s would have come up and sniffed at your rock with owner in tow, who waited patiently while her dog gathered all the information from your hiding spot. On seeing you she would startle (what are you doing under the rock, anyway?), and on composing herself she would tell you, “I let him sniff as long as he wants now on walks, because it’s good for him to use his nose”.

And there you have it, the latest dog owner belief. Thankfully, this belief has a bit more substance to it than common owner beliefs from the past, and even more importantly there is no harm in it for their dog’s. As more and more pet dogs are given opportunities to use their nose, the anecdotal evidence builds that a dog that uses their olfactory system regularly will often show a reduction in the behaviours we all link with negative emotional states – anxiety, reactivity and aggression. It really does sound too good to be true.

The two little guys that started me off – Sparrow and Quinn

As some of you know, I have been hooked on the link between this activity and the subsequent behaviour change in dogs for over 6 years now. Like many of you, Marion Brand was the first to introduce me to one version of Nose Work referred to as K9 Nose Work® with my two carpet pissers – I mean Chihuahuas – after we finished two years working on the musical Legally Blonde. I knew that life could easily be very boring for them after we finished the show, and nose work sounded interesting. Little did I know just how interesting I would find it.

While there are lots of reasons for attending Nose Work or Scent Work classes with your dog, the one we hear thrown around a lot is the therapeutic aspect that prevails. These classes will vary tremendously in approach and application, and it is this variation that is important to look at when we are interested in nose work specifically to improve a dog’s overall wellbeing. The benefits of nose work are tremendous for dogs, but only when certain variables are in place. When these variables are not present, nose work classes can not only be unhelpful in improving our dog’s emotional state, but can actually increase a dog’s anxiety and reactivity. It is vital for us all to realise that not all nose work classes are equal.

The list we are going to delve into together has been created from information gained, and observations made over the past two to three years that I have travelled around Australia giving nose work workshops focused specifically on the therapy of this wonderful activity. The list is not final, nor exhaustive. This is a very young activity for us, and I have no doubt that our understanding on how to utilise nose work to improve a dog’s general well

being will grow vastly over the coming years. But it is a start to help us all improve the lives of dogs, whether we are a dog trainer wanting to use scent activities and formal classes to help our clients, or we are owners of “project dogs” ourselves.

Important aspects of a nose work or scent work class to enhance it’s therapy benefits

1 The opportunity for the dog to hunt free of social pressure

This is probably the most important aspect of the set up of a class for the dog’s with emotional issues. While we have all experienced dogs that exhibit over the top behaviours in the presence of other dog’s – lunging, barking, pulling, bum puckering sets of behaviour we refer to as “reactive”, there are many dogs who don’t do the full monty, but who are still way short of feeling footloose and fancy free in the presence of unknown dogs. You often have to look a lot closer and be a lot more practiced in seeing, but the tell tail signs are there like quick looks to the exit, speed increase or decrease, small changes in muscle tension, pupil dilation… the list could go on and on, but basically you get what I mean. We all know that dogs (like humans – I am one of these) can display social discomfort by becoming more rowdy and hyperactive. I have often heard this behaviour change analysed as how much the dog “loves the game”. Look a bit closer and you see a dog that is simply uncomfortable.

If therapy from nose work classes is what you are after, your dog will never get it from being introduced to a new environment and the activity in the presence of other dogs. All other dogs who are partaking in the class must be away from the working area. In time and with improvement, other dogs may be added methodically as part of a systematic, pre-considered counter conditioning program. Our goal is to lower arousal by providing an environment that is considered safe and interesting to explore. If other dogs are just hanging out with their owners waiting for their turn or even in crates down the other end of the building, the experience will be less positive for each dog than what it could be, and thus in my opinion the instructor has failed to provide an experience that will be beneficial. Dog’s that are waiting for their turn and can see the other dog working are also not immune from the experience, creating an increase in distress in them, which again goes against the very nature of what a therapeutic activity is supposed to be.

In this area we need to make sure that dogs have skill and ability in waiting their “turn”, it is counteractive to stress a dog out while waiting in the car or crate when this is a foreign and stressful experience for it. Thus a good instructor will make sure that dogs coming to them are comfortable being left alone for short amounts of time, or provide a co-instructor to work with the

owner and dog when it is not hunting to develop this skill.

It is imperative also when we are looking at social pressure for dog’s that we look at ourselves – the humans present, some dogs will not be able to work with other people in the room watching – even if they are behind a gate and well away from the work area. For dogs that are socially sensitive they may need to go and greet the other humans in the room before they can focus on the hunting work at hand. When they enter the search area, especially for the very first time and the first run for a new week, if the dog indicates a need to go and “say hello” to the humans, it should be allowed to do so. Again, failure to allow the dog to do this can place unnecessary pressure on the dog and in some cases prevent them from being able to focus on the hunt. When we hear trainers say “nose work is the dog’s game” and then force them by lead or by sticking a box with chicken under their nose, the trainer is missing the whole point. I want the dog to do whatever they need to do so that they can choose to play my hunting game. I’m not going to fight the dog away from what it is interested in, I am going to allow exploration until the best game is what I have to offer. Anything less reduces the therapeutic opportunity because we are once again putting the dog in a situation where we take it’s choice away. Let the dog do what they need to do, and use that information to modify antecedents and consequences – hey presto you have a dog that is desperate to play your game.

2. Starting with something the dog naturally loves.

As a therapy it is vital in the introduction and early stages of the process that nose work classes provide no more pressure or discomfort on the dog than is necessary. Dogs that dearly need nose work activities added to their lives are going to find just the experience of going to a new place, working in the presence of new people, and smelling the presence of other dogs more than enough “new” for the first few weeks. That is why I want to have something wonderful that the dog naturally wants to start the therapy ball rolling, and for most dog’s this is BBQ chicken or roast lamb or beef, or toys can also be utilised here – what is most important is that we are not asking the dog to learn something new (in our case a new smell) while they are unnerved. Bring your nervous Nelly into a nose work class for therapy, and thrust a new odour under her nose followed by a treat while she is feeling uncomfortable about the new environment, and even if she eats the food YOU WILL STILL BE CREATING AN ASSOCIATION BETWEEN THE NEW SMELL AND HER FEELING OF DISCOMFORT. This means that every time she smells the smell or you ask her to go find the smell, that feeling of discomfort will be triggered. Thats classical conditioning 101.

So for me, it makes no sense to not start the dog off hunting for food (and I have thought about this a lot, and had great discussions with folk who feel

differently!). Teaching a dog to find a novel odour is a very simple process, however using nose work to improve a project dog’s welfare is not. When we start out with something that the dog already loves we give them the very best chance of having great experiences straight away. Great experiences equals comfort and confidence, and comfort and confidence equals desirable behaviour. 

Starting off with something the dog already has a positive association with also allows us to get the dog hunting more quickly, which allows that big olfactory brain to start working and creating a tired, content dog. The science of sniffing is very new, and while we really do not know why it is so beneficial for our dogs, the evidence that it IS continues to pile up. Science will catch up soon enough.

3. The ability of the instructor to modify the antecedents and the consequences specific to the dog’s needs in the moment.

A fundamental part of all the training we do is understanding the functional relationship between the antecedent, behaviour, and consequence. After all, it is the only way we influence behaviour, so being able to quickly see how the environment is influencing behaviour and change it up to get more of the behaviour we want is what we all do every time we train.

When it comes to using nose work classes for therapy it is imperative that instructors can identify what specific aspects of the training area (the antecedents), are influencing the behaviour that is being observed (for better or worse), and what could be changed to improve the behavioural response. Do I (as the instructor) need to move out of the search area and guide the owner about what to do because my presence is making the dog too nervous? Do I need to use a higher value food? Do I need to put out just one hide to slow the dog down? Do I need to put out multiple hides to reduce the dog’s focus on the owner? Would the dog be more comfortable without the big heavy harness on? Would the dog feel more settled if the owner moved away from the door and sat down? All of these changes in antecedent arrangements are some examples of things I have done that have made HUGE differences to a dog’s comfort state, and thus behaviour. It may be that we have to move a box just a tiny bit, or change the angle. It’s important to also say that I have often made the wrong call, sometimes thinking the issue was one thing, and when I changed it seeing nothing happen. I remember one dog who was described as “nervous” and “sticky” (to the owner), and I poo pooed her choice of “smackos” for the dog to hunt for – thinking that chicken skin would be a much more likely food type to motivate her to move away from the owner. Suffice to say it took me way too long to work out that THIS DOG preferred smackos… and once I swapped the chook for smackos the little dude had no trouble leaving mum! As my mentor

Susan Friedman continues to remind us all; “behaviour is the study of one”, meaning that every individual animal, while bound as we all are to the laws of behaviour that govern this planet, stands before you as a unique learner and must be worked with as an individual.

For a dog that is uncomfortable in the search environment, the instructors ability to understand the dog’s choice of “reinforcement” in the moment, and respond accordingly is another vital aspect of getting the therapeutic value from nose work classes.

The main activity in an introductory class will be to find food in a box, or create a conditioned response to a novel odour by pairing it with the delivery of food (depending on the instructors methodology). With the common belief that “reinforcement = food”, and“food = reinforcement” we are all too easily swayed to believe that if the dog is eating the food we are reinforcing a behaviour, and/or creating a positive association to the novel stimulus presented before the food. This is a really dangerous belief to hold onto in general, but especially if nose work for therapy is your goal.

If the class offers the chicken in a box game as a way to introduce dogs to nose work and the dog is indicating via it’s body language that there is a consequence more highly valued than food it is motivated to access, not allowing the dog to access that reinforcer will greatly reduce the therapeutic gains. Control of the environment, meaning the freedom to choose what they do when it is their “turn” is central to nose work as a therapy. For sure, it is the instructor’s job to move the dog into a place where they choose to play the box game, but as I have said above, the failure to acknowledge the dog’s desires and needs and allow access, whether in the role of a motivating operator or consequence, is a failure to understand the fundamental value of nose work classes for therapy.

A great example of this is the dog that wants to leave the search area as soon as they have come in. If orientation to the door is obvious and consistent, the dog is telling us escape is more reinforcing than food. If an instructor believes that a positive or successful experience in a nose work class only occurs when the dog finds and eats the food, they fail to provide the dog with the control. Failing to give the dog control will fail to give the dog the most positive experience they can have, and thus the most value from a therapy point of view. If the dog wants out, the dog should be allowed to go out, and in this scenario it is my personal option to ask the owner to invite the dog to come back in again – knowing full well that the dog will probably head straight back to the exit. This is one of the most powerful experiences a dog can have in nose work classes, the experience of learning you will be heard, and more often than not when the dog is once again invited into the search area, it will investigate, if only just a bit. The agency

this animal has just been given is the very experience it needs to build confidence to begin to hunt. If they are forced to stay more often than not shut down will occur, thus adding to the dog’s experience that force and coercion from humans is the norm, reducing again the dog’s comfort and trust in humans.

4. The instructors ability and skill in reading body language

The above aspect of a nose work class is impossible without having an instructor that has a very high level of observational skills. Behaviour is communication, being able to firstly notice and then correctly interpret what that behaviour is telling us is key to creating an opportunity for the dog to succeed. 

I know of no other way to get good at observing behaviour than to observe behaviour. I am forever grateful for the chance to improve my skills in this area by working with birds. They say so much with so little, and let’s face it when you don’t notice a slight slicking of the feathers and they fly off and are gone for two days, the consequence of your lack of observational skills is rather high! But seriously, watching dogs is the best way to get really good at understanding what dogs are saying at a very minute level. It was such a wonderful experience to travel with Marion initially and watch her work dogs, I saw so many different dogs in so many different situations, it really helped me understand canine behaviour specific to the context of nose work. And we all have the opportunity to do this, especially if you are teaching or are interested in teaching nose work. Getting out to other classes and just observing dogs is the way to go for sure.

The other thing here is to totally acknowledge and accept that none of us will ever interpret canine behaviour one hundred percent correctly, one hundred percent of the time. Of course that should not cause us to do nothing! If we see a dog is uncomfortable in any way, the only wrong thing we can do is nothing! Try changing the boxes, try changing the set up, try the dog on lead, try the dog off lead. It may be nothing other than experience and time that will build the dog’s confidence, but one thing is for sure, doing nothing because you are not sure exactly what to do is the biggest failure of all.

Scent work classes are only going to increase in number, the ease for the owner and the benefit for dogs means that it is a no brainer that soon every trainer out there will be utilising olfaction to some degree in their programs. Whether it is to hunt for an drop of essential oil in a nose work class or scouring the back yard for an hour or more, sniffing out the kibble that no longer comes in a bowl and gone in thirty seconds (hello Labrador owners),

or finally being given the time to investigate the latest neighbourhood goings on during the daily stroll with the human, allowing a dog to use it’s nose is the best canine enrichment around. But if we are formally going to offer nose work classes and praise it’s therapeutic aspects, it is imperative we all dig deep and understand just how to present this incredibly simple game in a class setting to best milk the marrow out of the benefits it can bring to our dogs.

Peta Clarke for CLICK magazine APDTA 2019

Quinn’s journey from reactive to 99% nonreactive

My story with Quinn and. what I learned from it – it’s rough information, not a well edited piece of writing. It’s more “thinking out loud”Quinn is one of the chihuahuas that came into my life when I did LB. He showed a high level of defensive aggression to other dogs when they would suddenly appear in his environment. He would run over to the dog and bark and nip if not on lead, if on lead he would lunge and bark. The dog didn’t have to be close or paying any attention to him. While doing LB, we didn’t often see other dogs – just to busy doing the show. Once we finished (he would have been about 18months) I began to work on this issue as a priority.

  1. He was never walked on lead with his brother, they would set each other off. He could walk with any of my other dogs, they were all fine. Mainly though I worked on this one on one.
  2. For 2 weeks Quinn got food at no other time than when we were counter conditioning. CONTINGENCY is a very powerful aspect of associative learning. So for that time Quinn learned not only “Good food comes when there is a monster” but also “food never comes when there is not a monster”.
  3. I never, ever let my dogs meet other dogs on lead. So, he learns he is safe. This is VITAL for reactive dogs.
  4. During this time I was doing beginner NW classes with him (chicken in a box). I noticed quickly that at nose work the amount of reactive outbursts was very low and when they did happen, the duration and intensity were much reduced.
  5. I began to (this is naughty because it was against the class rules) try and set it up so that Quinn would see a dog as he went into have his turn. His ability to ignore the other dog and focus on getting inside to search was incredible.
  6. I began to teach a verbal cue (“find it”) and a visual cue (right arm extended and finger point) to put to the behaviour of going and sniffing in the area I point to. I wanted to replace hand feeding him when he saw other dogs to cueing him to sniff.
  7. This is where I began to see a huge change in his ability to deal with other dogs in his environment. If they came up quickly or rudely, he would go off.
  8. I utilised dogs in front yards. They are controllable (can’t get to him). This allows him to feel safer to start with and provided me a chance to do reps.
  9. This is when I realised Quinn didn’t have to SEE the dog for his body to react to the knowledge that when we were on a walk he was coming up to a house with a dog in the front yard. I knew this because his body would display physiological changes indicating it was preparing for “fight or flight”.
  10. stiff movement
  11. intensity increase in pulling
  12. pilo-errection
  13. bum tightening
  14. muscle tension increase
  15. guttural noise
  16. I also understand that lots of current research shows us that the brain doesn’t know the difference between real and imagined, so I began to understand that Quinn didn’t actually need to SEE the dog, as long as I saw behavioural responses that gave me the information that he “perceived” the dog (real or imagined), I could begin counter conditioning. This was huge for me.
  17. This led me to understand that when we are working with reactive dogs we can use sound and smell for our behaviour modification program. I have always believed that the dog has to SEE the other dog before we deliver the food. This is to ensure temporal conditioning occurs and we are not training the dog to “expect to see a dog because we are reaching into the food pouch”. So I began throwing food when Quinn sniffed where a dog had peed or pooped, when we heard a dog bark etc.
  18. Once I had a goods strong history of no reactivity and passing and seeing dogs in lots of different situations, I began to show him that when he saw another dog coming towards us on lead, we would move up a driveway or get some distance and I would ask him to sit facing the way the dog was coming – i.e.he would be able to watch the dog the whole time. I HATE the method of telling a dog to look a the handler to attempt to stop them reacting. If you were terrified of snakes and one was coming towards us on a bush path, making you look at me would not make you feel better…
  19. By this point I think we had really reduced Quinn’s reactivity to zero, with the only occurrences happening if an owner was a moron and allowed their dog to come into our space.
  20. If we had a sudden meeting with a dog during this process I would still toss food on the ground and if he couldn’t hunt for it, I would get him out of there as quickly as I could, usually stand behind a bush or tree or something until the dog had gone, then I would take Quinn to where the dog had been and let him sniff (always great if the dog had pissed) and then give him the cue to find it and gesture towards the food. If the other dog had eaten some of the food that was extra good because there was more of the other dogs smell there, so some chance of positive association building. In those shit situations, I just make the best out of it that I can.
  21. Quinn also has had some conditioning work done to build positive CER’s with some rocks and I will always have one of them in my pouch, and I can ask him to find his rock and toss it out, in the same way that I do with the food. The rock has a lot of conditioning – specifically it is a stimulus that calms him. The photo is him with his “potato rock” at a commercial we shot last year where he had to work with several other unknown dogs.

So, from writing this, nose work was huge in helping Q with his reactivity in these ways:

  • Classes, perceiving (seeing, smelling, hearing) dogs as he went to have his turn.
  • Putting hunting on a very strong cue and delivering the food for perceiving another dog to allow hum to hunt for it, rather than just give it by hand. I believe this also helps because it is a natural behaviour – so for Quinn and the other dog, it ‘makes sense’ and is understood to some degree as a “non threatening behaviour”
  • He will often get to come into class and search for left overs after the classes, so expect there is lots of dog smells there for conditioning opportunities as well.

Science Rocks.

Quinn having an afternoon nap with the “original”

What a simple conditioning experiment taught me about counter conditioning and control.

A few months ago I did a brain dump about my journey helping one of my chihuahua crosses, Quinn to feel more comfortable around stranger dogs and to some degree stranger humans, especially ones that run up to you, look you straight in the eye and launch into “I’m about to pick up this dog” behaviour. Many found it helpful and that’s good. This is my promised part 2 brain dump, which will be made into a presentation. 

So the last document focused on using nose work as a foundation for counter conditioning Quinn to the appearance of other dogs in his immediate environment. If we were on the oval and someone with a dog appeared on the other side of the oval, he would fang off and attack them from behind. “NIP NIP NIP NIP NIPPEE”. Well that only happened once, because after that I knew how bad he was, but there were some close calls. Now, unless a dog comes right into his space, he pretty much ignores other dogs. Even when some dogs do run up to us he can cope, depends on the type of dog, the dog’s behaviour etc. It will never not blow me away. His body language is so interesting – he barks and carries on, you can tell he is telling them they are RUDE ARSE HOLES, but he is rarely defensive, never nips any more. Just barks and carries on and looks at me like he is saying “I still think they are turds, but I’m not scared any more Ma”.

Anyway, this is about his rocks.

Quinn has always been one of those Idoeverythingatonehundredmilesanhour kind of dogs. For the first maybe two years of his life the only times I saw any kind of real relaxation was at bed time. He would rest during the day, but it was that rest dogs do with one eye open and muscles tense, ready to go if needs be. So I decided, in my eternal quest to understand the application of behaviour analysis in the real world, to see what sort of conditioned response I could get to some novel object if I attempted to associate it with our bad time rituals. To see if I could have the thing CREATE the CALM in him that I saw at bed time. It had to be something that had no meaning to Quinn before we started the process, so I chose a rock. An ordinary rock. 

O.K., so I had my neutral stimulus (the rock) and I had my context that I wanted to associate with the rock. This is interesting already, because when we think of the process of classical conditioning we (well I do, and I am pretty sure most other animal trainers do as well, but I might just be slow), usually think that we associate ONE THING TO ANOTHER THING. Thats the way Pavlov studied it, right BELL THEN MEAT over and over. But we learn to associations to GROUPS OF THINGS all the time right, we call groups of things CONTEXTS amongst other things and we know that different contexts will illicit different emotional responses. We get excited thinking about going to a concert of our favourite band (ONE CONTEXT). We get uncomfortable when we are on our way to the dentist (A VERY DIFFERENT CONTEXT). So when we consistently experience the same stimuli together, conditioning happens the same. There is more to this, but that’s not for now. 

1. First thing I did was have the rock on my bed side table and when Q would come into bed and ask to be let in under the cover (he did this by scratching at me around the covers), before I lifted the cover up to let him under, I would reach out and get the rock and show it to him, usually saying something like; “Have a look at this lovely rock Quinnie! How nice is it?” Then I would let him under and put the rock by him while I gave him a nice massage. He would ask for that hands on time, again by pawing or pushing his head into me. He would be so tense he would do that groan noise you do when you are getting a good massage or having a grand old stretch and your muscles are loosening.

2. I did this every night. That’s a total lie. I did it most nights. Some times I would forget and do it later if he went out for a wee and came back to bed etc. But I am the most disorganised person in the world, so doing it every night the same way was never going to happen. So relax.

3. Now I think about it, sometimes when I was on the ball I would bring the rock across and have it on the bed and it became obvious that Q was beginning to orientate towards it in several different ways. He would lie near it, he would paw at it, he would nose it, lick it… but it’s important to remember I wasn’t training him to behave in a certain way towards the rock, this was about seeing what and even if the rock could influence his behaviour towards calmer, more focused behaviour.

4. So I began to see orientation towards the rock and began to bring it out at other times – not when he was over the top, but when he was just mooching around. I would make the big deal about it again in a calm way; “Oh Quinnie, can you believe what I have for you? I have your rock…” and I would put it down near him or whatever. Then one day he began to play with it like a weirdo… This was during the time we were living in hell because he had had surgery to fix luxating patellas and he was crated for 6 weeks post op. Playing involved digging in the blankets for the rock, rolling on the rock, licking the rock. I had to take it off him, he was moving around so much. He had never and has never to date (he is 8 years old at the writing of this) played with a toy in that way. Dog toys get tugged and ripped and rooted, but his rock play has always been specific.

5. Quinn had trouble with people arriving. Even people he knew well and enjoyed interacting with once he got over them ARRIVING. There were only a few times where people interacted towards him inappropriately (you know the direct eye contact, leaning over him, basically putting too much social pressure on him) and he would crack the shits – growls etc if he felt trapped. So I decided that I would have some of his rocks (they had multiplied) by the front door, in the letterbox and basically ready so that when people arrived they could MAGICALLY BRING HIM A ROCK. People were told not to look at him, talk to him etc etc. I would hand them the rock and say “Make a big deal of how amazing this rock is and make sure you say “rock” a lot”. They would and then they would either put the rock on the lounge and walk away or give it to me and I would give it to Quinn. It was miraculous. He went from barking and backing off to running up with tail happy wagging – “Did you bring a ROCK?’

6. Now, as I said, the rock had become rocks. There is criteria that needs to be met, thought we have generalised quite a bit. The rocks do have to be smooth and at least 8cm (3 inches). Small rocks are no good. They can be as large as he can hold. They are no good if they are too big to hold and carry. This is a good place to say QUINN DOES NOT CHEW THE ROCKS. HE DOES NOT PLAY WITH THEM IN A WAY THAT EFFECTS HIS TEETH. He sits them behind his canines and that is that. 

7. Because we now had multiple rocks, there were often rocks around the place. They have a spot in the house, but usually there will be one or two here or there. This is important to understand, because I think one of the most miraculous things I have learned in this process is how important it is that the animal can access their “SECURITY BLANKET/ROCK” WHEN THEY NEED TO. It is vital that the animal can access it when they need too. If you want to create an EMOTIONAL SUPPORT OBJECT for your animal, they must be able to get it quickly. It is probably best if the animal can perceive the object when they are faced with monsters, so they don’t have to think about going and getting it, but it is just there basically saying “I’m here if you need me”. If the emotional support object lives in a specific place and accessible to them, that’s good, and they will learn how to get it, but at first have them close. I didn’t consciously do this, it just happened because I don’t put crap away much.

8. Rocks came with us everywhere. They still do, but he doesn’t need them as much any more. So when we were working on our dog reactivity, rocks came in my bait bag. I would show him I had it, sometimes he wanted it straight away, other times he didn’t and he would ask for it. How did he ask? Just jumping up at me and orientating to my pouch. We also had developed up an understanding that if he felt threatened I would pick him up, so sometimes I got it wrong, he wanted up and I gave him a rock and visa versa. That’s a normal part of a close relationship, misunderstanding. The more you get to know each other, the more you get right.

9. Quinn also created a game with his rocks we call “casuals”. Casuals happens when a dog has something and goes up to another dog (or human, but humans often don’t understand what the dog is saying), and sort of casually shows them they have a grand prize that every dog in the world probably wants. It’s a little “ner – ner” with a touch of “see if you can take it”. But not in a “come on chase me” way. It’s casual. That’s why we call it “casuals”. Cats don’t understand it at all. Casuals are all about feeling great about yourself and what you have and feeling even better cause others want it and they don’t have it. Once I saw what Quinn was doing, I made sure that we played casuals with him as well, and would pretend to try to take the rock off him. This game really improved his confidence with strange people, especially kids. Anyone that plays a game of casuals with him are normally trusted much more quickly than if they don’t.

10. There is probably more, but that’s all I can really think of at the moment. I think for Quinn, there was such a contrast between his regular daily tension and when he went to bed, so it wasn’t hard for the rock to begin to become associated with that relaxed, safe feeling of bed time. I just think that we have to start looking at “counter conditioning” processes from different angles so we can best help the “Quinns” of the world.


It’s not about the rock! Many people are interested to try developing an emotional support object and think they have to start with something novel. You don’t need to! If your dog already has positive associations to an object you can build on that – it’s like getting a head start! I chose something neutral because I was originally doing it as an experiment in classical conditioning. In never dreamed it would be soooo beneficial in so many ways.

I never set out to “make” an emotional support object, just to see what would happen by pairing something at his relaxed time, but of course, I am using what I have learned from this experience in other areas and with another of my dogs. I think it was good that I didn’t have a “goal” because we tend to want to rush and get to the goal… So as you guys think about this with your dogs, DON’T RUSH IT. Take it gradually. Don’t push it. Enjoy the learning in the process that YOUR dog gives you (and then come share it).I presented the rock at bed time most nights for about 2 months before I saw any kind of real association to it. After that it really just was directed by Quinn. But the reason I have this story to share is the number of “trials” (Rock at bed time) and the strength of the association we made BEFORE I ever thought I could use it as a Emotional support object.