Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What do you mean you need to learn about tact?

There were a few people who first misunderstood when I told them I was going to a class on TACT.  They took it to mean tact.  And for better or worse there were people who weren't surprised when they thought that I was going to learn about the latter.  Boy will they be disappointed! 

Touch Associated Clicker Training (TACT) is a new protocol from Julie Robitaille that helps rehabilitate reactive, shy, and aggressive dogs using clicker training, learning theory and massage therapy.  I first learned about the program when reading the Facebook page for Dogs In Need Of Space (DINOS).  DINOS is a wonderful community I discovered a few months ago that allows people with reactive dogs to share stories, ask questions, and offer support to owners of reactive dogs.  As soon as I saw that TACT was created by Emma Parson's teaching assistant, Julie, I was on board. 

Admittedly I was nervous about going because I am not a professional dog trainer.  And if I'm to be totally honest I didn't previously think of myself as a trainer either.  Sure, I train Abby.  But I had previously classified myself as her owner and did not necessarily think of myself as her trainer.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover that although there were professional trainers and recent Karen Pryor graduates, there were also fellow owners, vet technicians, and animal massage therapists to name a few.  The idea behind TACT came from Julie's work in massaging canines.  She had clients who would want her to work on their dogs but they were worried.  Given the dog's reactivity the owner did not feel as if this was possible.  What began as Julie asking them to still come to her booth so she could click and treat dogs for entering, looking at her, walking towards her, etc. transcended into protocols aimed at giving repetition and structure to the interaction reactive dogs had with strangers. 

So much of this program seemed similar to the Protocols for Relaxation that Abby and I have used previously in the sense that you start with very small steps and build from there, increasing the difficulty as the dog is comfortable with it.  Additionally the Relaxation Protocol has a very ritualized series of movements that you do while the dog is in a default down or default sit.  TACT is very similar in how it builds the predictability of this protocol and later adds distance or challenges.  But additionally what I liked about TACT was that it builds the idea of generalization and applying this to other environments and other strangers.   

The seminar showed actual footage from private lessons between Julie and one particular dog, Finch.  There were points of Finch's story that reminded me so much of Abby - the alarm barking at strangers and other dogs, hackles raised.  There have been plenty of times where Abby has done this, even with people she sees regularly in our condo development.  But then there are other times where Abby bounds happily over to people to greet them and give them hugs and kisses.  Although Abby's reactivity seems relatively low these days which I credit in part to her not doing daycare anymore, it is something I am always mindful of.  The seminar was great at explaining Displacement Behaviors and how to identify them and has given me some criteria for identifying when Abby is at or beyond threshold.  Beyond that it has given me a series of protocols that we can work on, as well as some Foundation and Emergency Behaviors that we can use for situations where we see things that could trigger Abby to move past her threshold.  It also left me feeling empowered and believing that Abby and I have a relationship where I am also her trainer and handler. 

For those who are interested in checking out TACT but don't have the ability to attend a seminar, Julie has a comprehensive 5-disc set available for purchase on Clean Run.  The DVDs are 5.5 hours long and walk you through an introduction to clicker training, the TACT protocol, and massage therapy techniques.  I highly recommend them! 

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