What can you do when your 70 pound lab is ears deep in your dad’s privates only to charge at your mother to pummel her with his paws as “Your Precious little Bailey” nearly knocks Mom to the ground only to then turn his embarrassing behavior toward your best friend and her new sweater.
I’ve just described an over-exited dog. Bailey’s brain is hyperactive and his body is responding. He's making poor decisions. This dog needs to learn, then love, and then master Calmness, but that’s not possible when your guests at standing there with an out of control dog. It’s time for a strategy that will get you through the visit while you make definite plans to start working on true Calmness the very next day.
So what do you do before Bailey shreds your friend’s sweater with his teeth and nails?
Well, this is going to take some planning on your part. First, you didn’t feed Bailey before your guests arrived. Instead, you still have all his daily food to utilize for in the situation emergency strategy. To be clear, it's not ideal, but you need an option right now.
Now, guests are exciting, and I’m betting that Bailey has practiced this over-excited behavior many times before so you will need to increase the value of the reward to stand a chance of reaching his over-excited canine brain. Dry kibble isn’t up to the task. You need something yummy. Have a bowl of treats perhaps mixed with some kibble near at hand, but don’t stop the preparation there because the treats will offer only a short term distraction. You’re going to need more.
Stuff a kong with something extra smelly and wonderful. You can use yogurt, peanut butter (no xylitol), dripping from cooked meats, cheese, scrambled egg, etc. Google Kong Recipes for ideas. Just know that dogs aren't all that picky. Mix it up and freeze it. As little as an hour in the freezer will increase the time Bailey needs to slurp out all that yummy. Remember, this is Bailey’s dinner so consider his normal food intake, but it’s ok to splurge every now and then. I encourage you to keep a couple frozen kongs at all times so they are ready when you need one.
Practical Calmness Tip #1. When your guests arrive, toss the enhanced kibble and treats on the floor away from your guests. If Bailey doesn’t notice, hold a few in your closed hand under his nose before tossing then on the floor. Don’t ask your guests to do this. Bailey is your dog, and you and others living in your home are his trainers. If Bailey still doesn’t turn his attention to the food, hold a few more right under his nose and toss them, but this time after tossing the treats, point with your finger while you say Hunt, Hunt, Hunt. Lead his nose directly to the food while happily saying Hunt. You may need to do this a few times to keep Bailey focused on the treats over your guests.
What’s happening here? You are engaging your dog’s super power. His nose. When a dog uses his nose, he engages with the world in a different way, a calming way. This is meant to be short distraction. Just a few tosses to focus Bailey's brain before employing a longer term distraction.
As soon as you see Bailey is head down and focused on the food, give him the kong.
Bailey now understands that you and your rewards have more to offer. He knows a good deal when he sees one. You are starting to win the struggle assuming your guests have disengaged from the dog. If your brother-in-law insists on playing tug with Bailey while you’re training him, this isn’t going to work.
So there you go. Emergency Calming Protocol for when you don’t have any other options. Bailey didn’t learn much here, but it should have helped you get through dinner. If you were to stop training at this point, the same pattern will happen time and again. The Emergency Calming Protocol does not reshape your dog's brain to better choices made from Calmness. For real life and lasting change you need games.
We continue the lesson in a few days.
Rebecca Porter has been fascinated by dogs for decades, but it took a frantic mixed breed to send her on a journey into innovative and real life solutions in dog training.