Many years ago, I lived with a female Malinois dog, Matisse. A wonderful dog, but like many sheepdogs, not really sociable with other dogs. To help her cope with the presence of unknown dogs, I discovered that it was useful to give her a Kong toy. Matisse held it tight between her teeth, when stress increased she chewed on it, otherwise she just held it. I started calling it The Malinois Strategy: the use of toys to help dogs through a stressful situation.
I remember I started to recommend giving a toy when the dog was too intense in greeting the owners when coming home. Give a toy to your dog, give him compliments if he takes it, go to get changed and then go back to play with your dog. At that time the advice we were given were: ignore the dog, teach the dog to sit, give the dog some food if he doesn’t jump on you, plus other more or less violent versions (hit the dog with your knee, step on his back paw, use a tank full of stones inside...). My thought was that I wouldn't feel better if I were forced to sit and watch a wall, why should a dog get better if you teach him to sit and stay?
FOR YEARS I HAVE BEEN TEACHING MY MALINOIS STRATEGY, UNTIL I STARTED TO COMBINING MY KNOWLEDGE WITH KNOWLEDGE FROM BOOKS ON HUMAN PSYCHOLOGY.
I found out that my personal experience had a name: coping strategies. To cope is an English verb that indicates an active strategy to reduce the stress level of an individual. Since that day, I started calling The Malinois Strategy for coping strategies instead, and I started to study what is an effective coping strategy in dogs. I introduced the word and the concept of coping in my practice, and in the Italian world of dog sports. It's rare that I claim myself as the first, but occasionally it irritates me to hear people stealing my idea and selling it as their own. Something that happens quite often :-D
AN EFFECTIVE COPING STRATEGY IS AN ACTIVE STRATEGY TO REDUCE THE STRESS LEVEL.
Active means that the dog chooses what to do and when to do it. It's not something that we ask to the dog; it must be the dog’s choice. In order for something to be a coping strategy, it must reduce the dog’s level of stress.
It is not enough to be enjoyable, entertaining, it must reduce the level of stress. Coping strategies are a part of my working procedures for dogs. I evaluate natural strategies of dogs individually, I teach dogs new strategies, respecting the characteristics of each dog, and I teach the owner how to recognize the strategies and how to use them. They are an important part of the rehabilitation of a dog. It is not enough to know that they exist, the optimal use of coping strategies requires special training as well as skills acquired through observation and practice. Making a mistake not only means not improving the emotional state of the dog, but is likely to cause damage to the dog.
EACH DOG HAS INDIVIDUAL PREFERENCES WHEN IT COMES TO COPING, EVEN THOUGH THERE ARE GENERAL CATEGORIES OF COPING.
I watch trash TV, or read Facebook; others walk in the mountains or cook. What is an effective coping strategy for an individual, may not be effective for another. Our task is to recognize the natural coping strategy of our dog, learn to recognize it and use it to help our dog. One of the problems of coping strategies is that they can turn into addictions (another concept that I have introduced and I'm still studying).
The coping categories are: predation, play of predation, movement, swimming/water, social contact, grooming (caring for itself), food and activities associated with food. This video will show you some dogs engaged in coping activities.
Text and video Alexa Capra
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