Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Teaching Your Dog Self-Control

(adapted from article by Suzanne Clothier: http://flyingdogpress.com/content/view/32/97/)

Does your dog pull on lead when someone approaches? When he sees another dog? If a cat or squirrel dash through the yard? Is he hard to control at the vet's or groomer's? When people come into your house?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, chances are your dog needs to learn self control. Just as children must learn to control their impulses before they can mature into responsible adults, dogs must learn self control before they can become well mannered canine citizens. Self control must be taught, just as you teach him to sit or speak or come when called.

Some ways to begin working on self-control are:

Train, don't restrain. Taking a firm grip on the leash and collar teaches the dog nothing except that you can restrain him. Instead, ask for a simple skill, such as sit. If he breaks position, quietly and calmly ask again. Another excellent skill to ask for is a touch/target.

Ask for compliance, not submission. View working with your dog as you would working with any friend. Avoid creating a struggle by asking the dog for more than he can do at the time. For example, if your dog is really excited, he may be unable or unwilling to lay down, but agreeable to sitting quietly with a few reminders from you. Compromise and be reasonable - if your dog is extremely aroused/excited, chances are he probably will not complete a long "stay" for you.

Remember the dog does not know what his options are. A dog who is lacking self control simply does not know that it is possible to sit quietly in the face of distractions. It is the owner's responsibility to show the dog that he has options other than lunging, pulling or leaping around.

Move slowly and talk quietly. A dog who is highly excited needs calm, slow handling. A common mistake owners make is to move quickly, grabbing at the leash and collar, raising their voice and speaking in short, sharp tones. From the dog's point of view, the owner appears as excited as they are, and short sharp tones often sound like barking. Instead of calming the dog, this reinforces his excitement. By moving slowly and talking quietly, the owner sends a clear message to the dog that he is not excited and is in control of the situation.

Remind and ask, don't demand. A dog who is already excited is likely to resist a harsh correction or respond by becoming more excited.

Work on teaching self control in all situations. Begin by working in distraction free areas, and ask your dog to sit on a loose leash for five minutes. Gradually move on to more exciting situations, and practice often. Work at home, at friends' homes, in parks, shopping centers, at dog shows, training classes and the veterinarian's. As your dog's self control and respect for you increases, you can add laying down quietly for up to 30 minutes to his skills.

A game you can play is called "Go Wild and Freeze." You get your dog excited for a short period of time, and follow it with a period of calming/relaxing. At first, how much excitement your dog can handle will be pretty short. That is fine! You will want to watch your dog for signs of overarousal. Such signs can be barking, jumping with force, mouthing, etc. If your dog begins to do those things, chances are he/she has gone over "threshold." The first couple times you play this game, you will figure out how long it takes your dog to reach that threshold level. When you determine that, you will shorten or lengthen the excitement period to be just below what you know your dog can handle. For example, if I play this game a couple times with my dog, and I find that I can get her excited for about 10 seconds before she starts barking frantically at me, I will only do 8 or 9 second excitement periods. Eventually, I can add another second. During the calming/relaxing period, you will work on a settle behavior. So, you will talk softly and calmly to your dog, practice massage, etc. You will reinforce the quiet and calm behaviors your dog offers. This game will help your dog regulate his/her emotions better and faster.

A further step to "Go Wild and Freeze" is to ask for skills directly after the excitement period. For example, after I get my dog excited, I would ask for a "sit" or "down." This gets your dog prepared to respond to cues even when excited/aroused.

No comments:

Post a Comment