Do you ever wonder how to get your busy, energetic, or overstimulated dog to chill out? Busy dogs demand attention and I have found that the key to getting your dog to do what you want (i.e.: calm down and take a nap) is to provide him with what he needs (i.e.: run, play, tug, run some more!), plus a way to get from intense activity to zen dog. Hence, the Funnel of Activity.
I learned this from Dr. Meghan Herron, veterinary animal behaviorist at The Ohio State University. Like a funnel, which goes from wide to narrow, you need to go from big to small activity with your dog. Start with providing your miscreant with big, aerobic, fun activity to get his energy expended, then move to less active behavior that provides mental stimulation (such as working on a new trick like shake! or spin!, or give Fido an intelligence toy), to a deep tissue massage and end with a tasty stuffed Kong to get your dog ready for some quiet time. Whether you have 20 minutes or 60, the basic formula is the same:*
1) First 1/2 of your time: aerobic activity such as frenetic ball chasing
2) Second 1/2 of your time is divided into thirds (1/6 of total time):
1/3 = mental stimulation (do some training) or an intelligence toy followed by;
1/3 = slow, deep massage ending with;
1/3 = quiet time with stuffed Kong
I have used this formula with my dogs as well as with the dogs I used to sit for and have found it to be a great way to teach dogs how to settle, because you are providing them what they need both physically and mentally. I have encapsulated this process of turning chaos into calm in my handy Funnel of Activity chart:**
*Feel free to experiment with the formula so that it better serves your dog’s needs. For example, after running around outside, my grand-dog Tex, needs indoor activity before he can begin to settle. Therefore, after vigorous play he gets an intelligence toy, such as a Buster Cube or a Kibble Nibble, that he rolls all around the house as a 10+ minute cool down. A massage follows, and then he is content to gnaw his antler chew or work on a tasty Kong.
**Many thanks to Blake Kishler, my ever patient and faithful graphic artist for his help with making the Funnel of Activity chart. http://www.blakekishler.com
Since doing this post, we have also done a podcast (episode 43) on this topic. See: The Funnel of Activity
A common problem with puppies is general mouthiness, but when an owner is trying to clip the puppy’s leash onto its collar it can go beyond annoying to infuriating . The typical response seems to be to tell the puppy “NO!” and try to get it to settle by sheer force of will and a stern voice. I have not found that this is the most successful method and it generally results in a frustrated owner and a non-compliant dog.
So, what’s an owner to do? The answer is surprisingly simple actually! Use treats to get the the dog to look at you, then lure him into a down and place the treats between his paws as you clip the leash either on or off. If the dog will not do a down, then simply put the treats between his front paws and as he leans down to eat them, snap on the leash. You can use a small handful of kibble as the treats, but I find that adding in a few really yummy treats helps to motivate the pup to be still. Here is a wonderful little video illustrating this technique:
One last hint for leash mouthiness, if your dog is toy motivated, give him a stuffed toy or ball to hold while you snap on the leash. It is really, really hard to hang onto Mr. Bear and bite your leash at the same time.
Puppies bite — and thank goodness they do. Puppy biting is a normal, natural, and necessary puppy behavior. Puppy play-biting is the means by which dogs develop bite inhibition and a soft mouth. The more your puppy bites and receives appropriate feedback, the safer his jaws will be in adulthood. It is the puppy that does not mouth and bite as a youngster whose adult bites are more likely to cause serious damage. (Ian Dunbar, DogStarDaily.com)
Here’s Dr. Dunbar talking about the importance of bite inhibition and allowing your puppy to use his mouth:
I do understand that excessive biting can be frustrating, so if you cannot get your puppy to inhibit his biting or if your puppy seems to be biting out of fear, seek out the help of a positive reinforcement trainer or a certified animal behaviorist so that you can nip that problem in the bud.
Many of my clients come to me with rescue dogs of varying ages, abilities, backgrounds, and idiosyncrasies. The tendency is to think that older dogs cannot learn new things, or dogs rescued from difficult situations have canine learning disorders. Dogs, like humans, are individuals and while each one learns in his or her own unique fashion, the reality is there are certain guiding principles one can use to teach a dog to be a well mannered member of your family no matter how old or unfortunate the dog may be.* One of the most important things to keep in mind is the old adage: practice makes perfect! Repetition is the heart of learning and consistent daily practice is what makes behaviors happen.
Another key component of learning is to make it manageable. As my mom use to say, “You have to walk before you can run.” Break harder behaviors into easier components. Or, start small to build large. Working each day on core behaviors that build on one another creates a consistently well-behaved dog.
With that in mind, here some tips that may help you to incorporate dog training into your daily routine:
- Train in every room in your house where the dog is allowed. This helps your dog to learn that a command means the same thing no matter where it is given.
- Train in several small increments every day. Try adding four or five 5-10 minute sessions into your schedule each day. You will likely find this to be easier and more effective than one 40 minute session.
- Keep it simple. When training for short periods such as 5 minutes, choose one behavior to work on for that short session.
- Add distractions gradually.
- End on a positive note. When after 5-6 tries your pup gives you that perfect tucked sit you were working on, reward him well and end that session.
- Be happy and positive about training. Training should be fun! Build play time into training by using it as a reward in place of food.
Awhile back I found the article below about human learning, but the principles apply to dog training as well. He discusses how long it takes to learn something and that new skills often need to be broken down into parts. Hopefully you will all be encouraged by this fellow’s venture into learning a new skill to continue to play, learn and train with your dog. Enjoy!
*This is a general principle and I readily admit that there are some dogs that are extraordinarily difficult to train or rehabilitate and who may need much more than the average beginning training class. This does not negate the fact that learning theory does work for these dogs, or that the vast majority of newly adopted dogs cannot benefit from consistent, humane training and repetitive practice thereof.
In our group classes, we have a rule that if another dog barks, your dog gets a treat. This has proved to be puzzling to our owners until they give it a try and see that it is a great way to get their dogs in the class to remain calm and focused on them.
Think of it from the dog’s point of view:
Sparky: “WOOF!” (Hey, guys! We’re in class, wanna play? Huh? Huh?)
Phaedo: (Thinking) Hey, that’s Sparky! Hmm, maybe I ought to tell him that if I had opposable thumbs and could unhook this leash, I would SO love to play…
Phaedo: (Thinking): Whoa! Chicken just happened! Cool! Got more?
Xerxes: “WOOF!” (Yo, Sparky, I got your back, Jack!)
Phaedo’s owner swoops in again.
Phaedo: (Chewing and thinking): What just happened here? One of the bro’s barks and I get chicken…hmmm. Perhaps there’s a pattern developing here???
A group class can be very exciting (or stressful) for our dogs as there are plenty of new smells, people, and dogs in a new environment. Some dogs will respond to this heightened awareness by vocalizing, and that can encourage other dogs to vocalize as well. Therefore, we advise owners to short circuit this cycle. By interrupting Phaedo’s orientation to Sparky (and Xerxes) with a tasty treat, Phaedo learned that when another dog is a distraction it is worth his while to check in with his owner. Moreover, when a dog is focused on his owner, and not the world around him, the owner can ask him to do something such as sit, down, or meditate on world peace. We have also found that it tends to lessen Sparky’s barking as well, because no one is responding to his alert. This nifty technique can be used outside of class as well.
This week I had our Bernese Mt. Dog at MedVet and decided to do a bit of an experiment as the waiting room at MedVet is busy with a variety of dogs in variable states of arousal, anxiousness, and/or excitement. Whenever I go to the vet’s office, I take a bait bag full of treats, to help keep my dog focused and relaxed, but this time I tried tying treats to the behavior of dogs around us.
I started by finding a place where we could sit and I would see the approach of any dog before Buckley. He was a bit nervous about being there, and was drooling, panting, and watching every movement around him (Buckley, being a Mt Dog, drools and pants even when not aroused, but this was a bit more intense). I gave him a few treats to get his focus on me. Then, a dog walked by, I offered a treat, Buckley checked in, and relaxed a bit. I had him lie down facing me to help him relax. Two dogs out of his sight at the front desk, squabbled and he shot up into a sit, got lots of treats from me as long as the dogs debated, and he settled himself into a down. When a dog walked by us, Buckley got a treat. When one vocalized, 2-3 treats. A shepherd mix growled at him, and he got a fistful of treats as we moved to a new location.
This continued into the examination room. A couple of dogs were clearly upset in the hallway outside the room and in the room next to us. I fed Buckley as the kerfuffle continued and while he alerted to the noise, he did not start pacing or whining in response to their stress (something he tends to do when he is excited). By giving Buckley a reward for his calm response, and keeping him focused on me, he had a much easier vet visit and did his part in keeping the general peace.
So, next time you are out with your favorite canine, take some treats along and when you hear another dog bark, whine, growl, or otherwise vocalize, give your dog a treat and you too will find that the barking of another dog will soon become a cue to your dog to check in with you.
Having a dog whose enthusiasm for new people exceeds the bounds of normalcy is one of the most common complaints I get from people. How do you get your dog to not jump whenever he meets someone? Here are two easy steps you can take to help your dog stop being a kangaroo and start being a well-mannered member of society.
The first is a video from Ian Dunbar’s website, DogStarDaily.com about teaching your dog to not jump when meeting strangers. (For more info on Ian see my post: http://apositiveconnection.com/?p=2059) The basic thrust of the activity is to recruit 6 friends for a 20 minute training session for your dog. Find a block to circumnavigate and have your friends go clockwise around the block (spaced out single file about 25 yards apart), while you go counterclockwise with your favorite springbok. As you approach your friends, ask your dog to sit and give him a treat when he sits. Have your friends pet him and give him a treat as long as he is seated. As you proceed around the block several times your dog will catch on that sitting to meet someone is what brings a treat! Do this until Fido reliably sits for all 6 friends. Then treat them all to Whit’s!
Here is the video: http://www.dogstardaily.com/videos/meeting-strangers-sirius-puppy-training-classic (Please note that you will probably have to sign up to view this video. Have no fear! DogStarDaily does not send you emails, require a credit card, or anything of that nature. So go ahead and sign up, there is a lot of good info on this site!)
The second thing you can do comes from my mentor, Robin Bennett. She suggests putting your dog on a leash when people come to the door (once again you can stage this with 6 friends that you invite over for a Margarita party. Have them come to the door one at a time, 5-6 times each). Hold the handle of the leash at your waist and where the leash touches the floor is where you step on it with the ball of your foot. Your dog will be able to sit, lie down, or stand, but it is unlikely that it will be able to jump up. (If it can jump, then adjust where you put your foot so that he cannot jump up). Now, reward him for not jumping when people come through the door. You can also use this method when you are out walking with your dog and some one approaches to say hi and you don’t have time to say “Sit.” Or, it’s handy if you are talking to someone in a high traffic area. Step on the leash while you converse so that if someone approaches unbeknownst to you, your dog will not be able to vertically launch himself. You have prevented the jumping, and you can ask the dog to sit as soon as possible.
Here is the link to Robin’s blog on this: http://www.robinkbennett.com/2014/01/12/get-your-dog-to-sit-even-when-hes-crazy/
Remember that your dog does not think it is rude to jump up on people as this is standard canine operating procedure. Be consistent and patient with your congenial canine and he will soon learn that good manners mean good times!
As I have hinted at in earlier posts (http://apositiveconnection.com/?p=1756) sit is one small command, that provides giant relief for owners. Sit is especially important for big dogs to perfect as it can be very intimidating to meet a standing Sasquatch, much less a mobile giant! But, if the 120 pound furball is seated, he is far more approachable and much less threatening.
Sit is also a terrific way for your dog to learn to say, “Please.” By requiring Fido to sit for everything he wants in life (i.e.: dinner, go out the door, a treat, a ball, to jump on the couch, rent Benji from Netflix, etc.), he learns some self control and that good things happen when he puts his best paw forward. Most people would not win many Brownie points with the people they live with, if upon arriving in the kitchen each morning they pounded their fists on the counter, looked at the lady of the house and said, “Breakfast, Woman!” Why shouldn’t we expect our dogs to have some manners as well?
So I recommend letting “sit” be the canine equivalent of please. Sit is a very neutral position for most dogs. It does not put them into a vulnerable position (such as lying down can be), but nor are they in a ready-for-action position (such as standing). Instead, they are grounded, but not threatened or threatening. There are two ways I like to work on sit with my dogs.
The first is to wait for my dog to offer a sit and then reward him with a treat within 1/3 of a second of his bottom hitting the ground. It is important to reward the desired behavior as soon as possible after the dog has performed it so that you reinforce the behavior you want and not a subsequent one. I do not ask for a sit because I want my dog to be actively engaged in the process and to realize, “Hey! Go Figure! I put my bottom on the ground and Mom gave me a treat! Let’s see if I can make her do that again!” When the dog learns that his actions bring rewards, then that action is more likely to be repeated and he is more likely to be fully engaged in the learning process. He is also more likely to make this his default behavior for those times when he doesn’t know what to do.
As much as I want my dog to default to a sit and learn that good manners bring good things, I also want him to know that when I ask him to do something, such as sit, I expect him to do it, and preferably quickly. I have found that the faster my dogs respond to a command, the more they stay engaged with me and look forward to what comes next. To create a snappy response from your dog, have your dog do 3-4 sits and count how long it takes for him to complete the behavior from the time you say “Sit.” The fastest of those 3-4 times is your new standard. (For example, if your dog’s fastest sit is 2 seconds, then the only sits that will now be rewarded with anything other than “Good dog!”, are those that take 2 seconds or less.) As your dog becomes faster at this, re-assess your time.
When practicing either of these exercises at home, I use part of my dog’s daily food allowance for rewards. Take a 3 oz paper cup and fill it with a portion of your dog’s daily ration of food and use that for practicing your sits every day (It doesn’t matter if you stretch it over the whole day or for a few hours in the evening, just be sure to use every piece of food in the cup by the end of the day.) If you do this, then I guarantee that your dog will have the fasted sit of any dog on your block, and a whole new level of self control!
At a recent dog training conference I was working with a young dog, who went behind my chair, into my purse and pulled out some cellophane that had been on a cookie. I saw what he had stolen and fortunately had some treats I could offer him for the wrapper. He would not give up the wrapper for a piece of hot dog, but he loved cheese and happily traded the cellophane for cheese. I had never worked with this dog before, but I knew that if I could offer something he really liked, I would be able to get the wrapper without fighting with him. It worked! How much better will that work for you if you have practiced this regularly with your dog and if you use what you know he truly loves. For example, Bingley is so ball motivated that he once dropped a half a frozen groundhog to chase his beloved tennis ball. Within a second of dropping the frigid rodent, I threw his ball long and hard, picked up the ground hog, and tossed it to my husband who chucked it into the woods while Bingley zoomed after the golden orb. He, Bingley that is, never gave the groundhog a second thought! Whether or not my husband has nightmares about frozen rodents being chucked at him, that I do not know…
Hold it! Water and oil? Yes, water and oil.
Why on earth would I say this?
There are a lot of reasons, but the most common one is because many dogs of young couples may be well socialized to adults, but were not introduced to many children when they were puppies. Thus, the squealing, flailing, small mysterious object who arrives suddenly one day, may smell like a mammal, but the noise it generates sounds like a squeaky toy and it’s movement is like a wounded prey. Older children are oddities to many dogs as well. They run around, yelling, squealing with delight, flinging arms, toys, and generally having a grand time that excites the dog to join in, (or in the case of herding breeds, to bring into line), it may scare the dog as the excited play escalates, or their inappropriate attention (sitting on him, pulling his tail, poking his ears) may drive even the most tolerant of canines to total distraction. Thus, from the dog’s point of view, this new arrival may not be a bundle of joy, but instead a tempting bundle of intrigue or a frightening source of discomfort, which is off limits, and which occupies the near constant attention of his people.
So, what’s a new set of parents to do? There are several things that you can do to make this transition easier for all involved. The key is to start before Junior comes home from the hospital!
1) Be sure Fido knows his manners. Key behaviors to have in place are: sit, sit, sit, and sit. That is to say, sit should be your dog’s default behavior so that if he does not know what to do, he offers you a sit. He should also know to sit when asked (the first time, not the 5th), as well as to hold the sit until given the next directive. Remember, sit is your friend and can be the quickest way to keep your dog and your child safe.
2) Just as important as sit, is a good reliable recall. Imagine your toddler careening towards Fifi as she is curled up on her bed in the corner. If Junior gets there, Fifi has no escape route. So, before a close encounter of the canine kind happens, call Fifi to you and have her sit. Then direct Junior towards one of his toys or at the least, in the opposite direction of Fifi’s domain.
3) Give Fido a safe haven where he can retreat to rest and be away from the baby. This can be a crate, an exercise pen, a baby gated area, or his own room (such as the guest bedroom, the laundry room, a corner of your home office). As your child gets older, make sure he understands that the dog’s bed/blanket/crate is the dog’s and not a play place for him. Everyone needs a place to decompress, be sure your dog has one.
4) Teach Fido that bad things can mean good things for him. For instance, handle your dog all over (think ears, paws, tail) while providing tasty treats. i.e: lift his ear with one hand while giving liver treats with the other. Teach him that people approaching him while eating means tasty things happen. As he eats, approach him and call his name, when he looks up, drop some cheese or other yummy item in his food bowl. (If your dog stiffens or is otherwise leary about having people approach him while eating, get a positive reinforcement trainer to help you.) This way, if your child grabs his tail, for instance, he will be far more tolerant than if you have never paired touching his tail with treats.
When the time does come for Junior to make his entrance, here are a few things that might make the transition easier for Fifi:
1) Before the baby comes home, bring home a blanket or something else with the baby’s scent on it. Allow Fido to smell it and get used to the scent. When you do bring the baby home, keep her at a safe distance but have Fido sit near you and give him treats for being calm and quiet around the baby. If needed, have one person give the treats while another holds the baby. The key is that the baby and the treats happen at the same time. If the baby leaves the room, the treats cease as well.
2) As counter intuitive as this may seem, ignore Fido when the baby is not around and pay attention to Fido in some positive way when the baby is around. Your goal should be to have your dog not just tolerate, but actually enjoy the presence of your child. This is best accomplished by pairing the presence of the child with the presence of things the dog enjoys. Perhaps Fido gets a stuffed Kong while the baby eats, or you can scratch his ears while the baby is sleeping in a bassinet nearby, or you can toss his kibble piece by piece around the room while you sit on the couch with Junior. In this way, your dog begins to understand that the mystery object is a good thing, as good things happen to him in its presence.
3) Get yourself a copy of “Living with Kids and Dogs…Without Losing Your Mind!” by Colleen Pelar https://www.dreamdogproductions.com/livingwithkidsanddogs/resources.html#. Colleen’s book is the best on the market for helping parents deal with the chaos of a life filled with kids and dogs. Colleen has lived the life as a mother of 3 boys and 2 dogs and she has practical, easy to follow advice for kids and dogs of all ages, from infancy to the teen years, puppyhood to old dog. If you buy only one book on kids and dogs, please make it this one! It is also available on Amazon, http://www.amazon.com/Living-Kids-Dogs-Without-Losing/dp/1933562129/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1389632572&sr=1-1&keywords=living+with+kids+and+dogs, and I generally have a few copies available for purchase as well.
Also, be sure to check out all the useful information on Colleen’s website: https://www.dreamdogproductions.com/livingwithkidsanddogs/index.html.
If you are nervous about adding either a dog to a family of kids, or a child to a family of dogs, do not hesitate to call or email me with your concerns or questions. I am happy to help you make the easiest transition to this new state of being and I want you to enjoy your life of canine/kid chaos to the fullest.