A dog who overreacts to people or dogs needs an owner who is mindful of preventing this behavior in addition to working on coping exercises that will reduce the reactive outbursts.
How and when you speak to your dog is crucial to training success. It is important to remember that the more excited you get your dog the harder it will be for him to be calm and have manners. If your constant chatter is causing your dog to move faster, wag his tail, perk his ears, or act more alert or animated, he is probably becoming more aroused and might be more difficult to control. Here are several examples of what my clients have repeatedly said over the years and the over-aroused and unexpected responses from their dogs.....
......kind of makes you wonder
if you should say anything at all.
“Do you want to go for a walk?” Dog jumps up excitedly then runs toward the leash or the door, handler then must get the dog to settle or sit so leash can be clipped on. Client struggles with dog pulling on the leash as they go out the door.
“Oh look, it’s Auntie Sue!” Dog gets aroused and excited, runs to Auntie Sue and jumps on her. Client gets upset with dog for jumping.
[doorbell rings] “Who’s at the door?” Dog gets aroused and excited, runs to the door and barks and jumps. Client gets upset at dog for barking and jumping.
“Ratchet, do you want a cookie? Easy….EASY…..EEEEASY!” Dog hears the word “cookie” runs to the treat jar, drools and trembles anxiously while waiting for the delivery. Dog wants to lunge as the treat is handed to him because he is so worked up. He then gets more aroused as he hears “easy” get louder and LOUDER and more drawn out.
“No, Ratchet, you can’t have this chocolate. You know chocolate is not good for dogs.” Dog looks at client because his name has been said but he hasn’t a clue what the other words mean. He wonders if he should be doing something cute so client will give him the chocolate. Client has dog’s full focus but dog gets no reinforcement. Client struggles to get dog’s focus in future training sessions.
[vet looks into dog’s ear] “It’s okay. It’s okay. Ratchet, it’s OKAY. SHHHHHHHH!” Dog gets aroused from all the chatter and weird “sshhhhh” noise. He starts squirming and vet assistant clamps down tighter on his head making the dog more anxious and uncomfortable (I have had to stop a vet tech from speaking this way to my own dog).
“Ratchet, let’s go in the kitchen. Ratchet, you are so cute. Hi Ratchet, what are you doing? Ratchet, I can’t find my keys. Ratchet, mommy’s home!” Dog’s name is said so often that it becomes background noise and the dog becomes less responsive to his name. OR, dog becomes so accustomed to all the chatter that leaving him home alone in the quiet causes him distress.
Six ways to get a better response from your dog.
1) Take a moment to think before you speak. Are you saying it at the appropriate time? Do you really need to say anything at all?
2) The less you speak, the more your dog will pay attention when you do.
3) Use a calm, low-volume voice when you want your dog calm.
4) Use elevated voice if you are looking for arousal and action.
5) Speak simply and with consistency in tone and inflection.
6) Reinforce what you say with actions or with rewards.
Recently I was glamping in my friend’s motorhome and was ready to take my Labrador inside but did not take a moment to think before speaking to him. I got on the steps and called him BEFORE I had opened the screen door…..that he couldn’t see. Just finished paying that repair bill!
Hugs to you and your dogs!
I really enjoy training for dog sports. I am not competitive but enjoy pushing myself in skills and the dedication required to achieve passing scores and placement ribbons. I look forward to testing myself, being outdoors, watching other dogs work, and talking to other dog people. A fun challenge for me is translating what I see in the ring to how I can help my clients.
So what does my performance dog training mean to you, a non-competing pet dog owner, who simply wants your dog to behave?
I am always looking at a dog’s body language and how he/she is perceiving the environment. Dogs with tendencies to be fearful or reactive will rarely do well in competition until those issues are addressed. I have seen handlers with the best training techniques do poorly in the ring because the dog has shut down due to emotions (and it has happened to ME!). Pet dog owners who tell me they only want their dogs to walk well on a leash will still need to address fear, resource guarding and aggression before training can be effective.
A judge will expect my dog to perform while in new and different environments. A show can be full of over-the-top hormonal dog emissions, barking dogs, generators, people with hats, people carrying large things, rattling food wrappers, children, etc. Many clients don’t think about how, when, and where they train Sit, Down,and Come yet expect the dog to do those very things everywhere they take them. I can help you to become aware of how you train so your dog will “perform” when guests visit, at the coffee shop, in your car, around new dogs, at the vet clinic, etc.
In the Obedience ring, points will be deducted from my score if I give my dog more than one command so I train my dogs to respond immediately to my first cue. I can help you to get your dog to respond on your FIRST request, not after the sixth or seventh time.
If not handled properly my competition dogs will start lagging behind me and lose interest in our teamwork causing a very low or non-qualifying score. My vigilance in fostering a mutual relationship between you and your dog - by teaching your dog to make choices (the RIGHT choices) - will keep your dog focused and listening.
If you happen to watch an obedience competition, online or in person, take note of the focus that the dog has on its handler. THAT is the foundation of any dog-human relationship!
Love and hugs to you and your dogs!