This is Archie. He turns one pretty soon. He is the newest dog at The Prince Street Puppy Project. Archie joined us at the start of our 2013/14 school year this past September. His “mom” Erin adopted him a couple of months before, from the PEI Humane Society. Archie is a gorgeous reddish-colored mix.
Sometimes “teenage dogs” can be a bit spooky and, unfortunately, if they get something spooky into their heads, they can’t just tell us what it is so we have to figure it out. A couple of weeks before March Break, so near the end of February and early March, Archie started to demonstrate some stress. Time to put on our best Sherlock Holmes hats!!!
At first, we thought he may be uncomfortable in his crate because, even though we have done lots of positive work with the crate, and even though he uses one at home some of the time, he was sometimes doing a minor refusal to go into the crate and we would have to food lead him in and jackpot him for going in. Also, he had started panting for no particular reason while resting in his crate. As we continued to try and work it out, such as determining that he would only do the stressed behavior in the crate, only while in the crate at school, and only while in the crate in the classroom at school, his stress got worse.
One afternoon, about a week before March Break, the students came to get me because Archie was panting worse that we had seen him ever do. Again, he had been resting quietly in the crate and nothing had happened, yet here he was panting. I watched for a few minutes to assess the situation when he began panting hard with a wide open mouth- looking much more like gasping than panting. I told some of the students, very calmly, that I thought we should move him to the lobby with his crate to see if he would calm down. He would not go into the crate when we placed it in it’s regular spot in the lobby, so we moved the crate to another location and he ran into it and laid down. I continued to check on him over the next half hour and he calmed down completely. I won’t lie- I was watching pretty closely, worried that the vet may be necessary!!! Things that make you go hmmm…
Then began the decision-making with his mom, Erin. What do we do? Where do we go from here? Now, if this was an anxious or stressed-out child, we would find some sort of an acceptable fall-back position. For example, if the child was anxious or stressed-out in certain school situations, we would try to find locations in the school where the child would be more comfortable as we worked toward increasing the comfort levels around the stressors. Well, much the same is done with dog stress, assuming you can figure out what is going on. All the detective work we needed to do with Archie is not unlike the detective work we sometimes have to do with children. Sometimes you CAN ask them and they can tell you what is up but often, the child is not sure what is up or how to help solve it, but is able to participate in the fall-back comfort position conversation. Archie couldn’t so we had to decide.
Erin and I feared that leaving Archie home for a while may make the stress worse if we tried to bring him back to school later. Much like when a child falls and then checks the adults for reaction level before deciding to cry (when they are more startled than hurt, obviously), we can make our dog’s stress level or reaction worse. When we do things like coo that it will be okay or we pick them up in a startled way and coddle them or we pull hard back on the leash when meeting other dogs, we confirm for the dog that there IS something to worry about, that I as your handler don’t “have it”, so you, the dog, may need to handle it. We had to support Archie and ease him back into the game, We needed a plan.
So, we decided we would let Archie stay in the lobby for a week or so. Yes, he would have to come to school, and yes he would stay in the crate, but no, he would not have to go down to class. We left his treats in his bin on his crate so the students and staff could walk by and slip him a treat and praise him for calm behavior. We also decided, when we WERE ready to move him back down to a class, we would ask him to go to the grade five classroom where he did not have his little breakdown- to offer him a harder situation than the lobby but not the hardest situation of going where he was most anxious most recently.
Now, as usual, it was the students who came to us and wondered out loud with us, after about one successful lobby week, if it was maybe time to give the classroom a try again. With LOTS of positive reinforcement, lots of out of crate time, lots of praise and treats, etc, Archie was back in the classroom. The students did a lot of baby steps with Archie, easing him down the hall with food leading and praise because, as he got closer, he would sometimes put the brakes on, signalling us that it was getting hard. We needed to find a way to respect what he was showing us and support him. There were a couple of times when we would stop and let him rest, not asking him to move forward, but not letting him go backward, all the while encouraging him to choose forward movement with praise and treats. There were even a couple of times when teacher (and one of his “school moms”), Kathy Kiley, came down the hall to excitedly recall him to her and he would forget his fear and bound down the hall.
All the while, as with so much of what we do with The Puppy Project, thinking together with the students about what the problem could be, solutions we could try, and how to get our win-win situations. Our students have learned SO much about pushing through stress, making choices easier, and offering supports in this last month. This picture was taken by Kathy Kiley and it is Archie playing the role of teacher during a Guided Reading session in Kathy’s class. When I had to take Archie out of the class and down the hall just over a month ago, I figured we would get back to here, but the fact that we have done that so quickly is a testament to all that is right about Prince Street School. We say it all the time but it warrants once more: Prince Street School ROCKS!!!!