Monday, September 8, 2008

Work Smarter, Not Harder

I have an interesting puppy class this session. Out of 10 dogs, all but one is a sporting/gun dog and the one that isn't is a standard poodle mix, so I figure that's about the same thing. Can you imagine the energy level of even 8 of these puppies in one room?! Oh, did I mention that at least 3 of them have a future in field work.

Don't get me wrong, the puppies are great and the owners are committed. When they are focused on training the room is eerily quiet and the attention is amazing. However, a very important part of puppy socialization class is allowing the puppies to play in safe, managed play groups. The first night way chaos! Puppies careened all over our 60x40 classroom. No one could catch their puppies, the arousal level went over the top (both the puppies' and mine), and it was just a free-for-all. Basically everything I cringe to think about in a puppy play session.

I wasn't going to scrub the playtime. For one thing it's important. For another, I think the puppy owners would lynch me. :) So my fearless co-instructor and I did some strategizing.

The next week we had three play areas. A small pen for the smallest sized pups, a large area for the shy pups, and a much smaller area - probably about 25x10 area - for the wild puppies. When I explained the new play areas the people with the more exuberant dogs looked at me like I was insane. Why give the most active dogs the smaller space?

The owners soon saw the method to my madness. With the more confined space it was much easier to catch puppies to interrupt inappropriate play. We also added many more breaks in the play to keep arousal levels down and it was much easier on the owners to collect their pups during breaks. Pups were also encouraged to wrestle and play-fight since there wasn't as much room to perform out-of-control zoomies. Play was much more appropriate and I think all of the pups had a lot more fun. I know the instructors did!

I realized that in a sense I've been doing the same thing with Bug. We've been having nap and bed time issues so as soon as we get to her room, I close the door so it isn't as easy for her to have access to the whole house. (She's fast, but I'm especially slow now that I'm 5 1/2 months pregnant!) From there we can get settled more easily. We're also struggling getting dressed and fixing hair, so again, before I even mention what we're doing, I make sure we're in a room with a door that closes. Just the symbolism of the door seems to help her understand that we're settling and doing whatever it is that needs to be done. As soon as the task is done, the door is ceremoniously flung open and the world is her oyster once again. :)

Since I've been consciously confining ourselves these events have been less hectic. If I let her play and get involved in something first it's much harder to get her to change gears even for a moment, especially if she can see ALL the things in the house she'd rather be doing. The smaller area lets her focus a bit more. And I can catch her when she takes off naked.

I guess what it comes down to is that I've spent a lot of time establishing behavioral boundaries in both dogs and my daughter, but I never thought about the advantages of physical boundaries as well. Not that little ones should be in small spaces all the time, but if you are trying to get something specific done it can help with focus and also with some anxiety, depending on what you are trying to do.