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.
At RosyDogs, I talk a lot about buckets. Every dog has one, and in the bucket the dog is carrying stress. Every bucket is a different size. It’s all tuned to the dog’s individual personality. Great Danes can have thimble size bucket while a tiny toy poodle may boast an Olympic pool size bucket.
Everything adds stress to the bucket. Good things like cuddles. Scary things like thunderstorms. Frustrating things like the squirrel teasing from an unreachable height. Exciting things like their human coming home. Everything adds to the bucket, and you know what happens when you keep filling a bucket. It overflows. We see that as an overreaction to something. Sometimes something very minor. When that bucket starts to overflow, it’s Boom Time, and almost anything can happen.
The important thing to remember when the bucket overflows is that dogs will do what makes them feel better even if only for an instant. Once they find something that helped them feel better, they do it again and again when the bucket overflows. What you see as excessive barking, or charging after the cat is really what your dog is using to feel better.
Dogs cope with their filling stress buckets in one of two ways. They’re either an Active Coper or a Passive Coper. Active Copers are easy to see. They’re the barkers, the lungers, the charging off after rabbit dogs while the passive Copers tend to fade into the background. They stare off into space, or go into sniffing mode that seems to block out the rest of the world.
Active Copers disperse stress faster and more efficiently. Studies have proven this time and again. Neither method is wrong. One’s just lower the stress faster. The larger point is we can help both types keep the bucket level so low it never overflows.
So what can we do? Well, we have 2 choices. We can either change our homes and lifestyle to accommodate the stressed out dog, or we can meet them somewhere in the middle by working to change the bucket to better match the lifestyle you all want to live. I think you’ll agree that meeting in the middle is best for everyone.
Tomorrow I introduce your first Practical Calming Tip, one to use In Case of Emergency because life gets crazy sometimes.
At the Dane County Humane Society, every canine volunteer and staff member knows just how important calmness is for dogs. To achieve it at DCHS, we do something called Quiet Time. You may have witnessed someone doing quiet time because it’s often done on the public side of the dog’s kennel. It’s the thing we all most love to do. It feels special to be that person with a dog curled in your lap as their new family first sees them. It’s happened to me more than once. A visitor sees a dog relaxing next to me and they rush to the Adoption Center to arrange a meet and greet. Next thing I know, little Emma is heading home with her new family. Nothing feels better. It’s one reasons I donate my time and skills to shelter dogs.
The behaviorists at DCHS have tasked us the mission to give every dog at the shelter a few minutes of relaxation each and every day because shelters are extremely stressful places for dogs. It’s the most precious thing we give them while they await their new family. As a professional dog trainer I know it means even more to the dogs.
When a dog finds something that makes them feel comforted, the more likely they are to do that same thing again. Think about it. If you feel good after a warm bath at the end of a stressful day, it becomes something to look forward. You can’t wait to get home to the bubbles. It’s the same for our dogs. Sadly, many dogs simply don’t know how reach the blissful feeling of relaxation yet it’s vital for the dog’s mental and developmental health. The happy side-effect is it make them better pets.
At RosyDogs, I take the goals of Quiet Time to even greater purpose. I can show you how to help your dog build Calmness as a Default state of being. And I do it through simple games. A calm dog nearly always makes great choices while a hyper, over-excited, frustrated, worried, or frightened dog struggles to fit into your home. Calmness conquers most behavior issues before they even start.
Calmness is King, and you can help your dog get there. I'll show you how.
Watch this space for Calming Tips in the coming days.
I’m often asked what is the most important skill my dog needs to learn. Put another way, with so many things to learn, where do I start?
Great Questions. I can boil it down to Three Concepts Every Dog Should Master.
Think of this as the off-switch so many dogs are missing. Does your dog default to either a calm activity, rest, or sleep when YOU decide it’s time to relax? It’s a tough one for many dogs, especially young dogs. The good news is it’s also a pretty easy one to learn. If you’re struggling with this, I have easy, fast, and fun games as well as two important strategies to help your dog learn to relax in your home. The RosyDogs Boundary Games Workshop is a great place to start.
How does your dog respond when something new appears? Does she back away from an umbrella opening, or bark at a dog appearing in the distance? Both are new things that Optimists will view as something either good, or at the very least nothing of concern. New things are part of life. Learning to think of them as a non-event is key to a happy life.
Book an eye-opening Optimism Assessment today to both learn where your dog is on this important scale while learning 3 powerful games that Increase Optimism in the future.
Once your dog notices something, can he let it go? Or does he continue to pull you down the street after that squirrel? Maybe he paces the entire time your guests are watching the game with you. Perhaps he seems agitated long after encountering something upsetting. Letting go is extremely important in just about every area in your dog’s life.
Often, Disengagement Struggles are often combined with other key skills not on this list. Still, it’s too important to overlook because Disengagement is often the bottleneck to real change. The best way to start is to Book a Consult for a full assessment and GamePlan.
Every dog is different and every dog guardian has different expectations. When pressed, this is where I can confidently say where you should begin on your RosyDogs Journey. An Assessment is designed to fully evaluate your dog to uncover other more important struggles and provide the GamePlan Customized to your dog.
So how do you think your dog would do on this test?
Like us, dogs have Coping Strategies. And like us, they either cope by doing something about it or by avoiding it.
What about your dog?
When your dog is upset, does he jump, lunge, bark, run, pace, spin, or even walk away? Maybe he tears at the grass or sniffs his privates. If you answered yes, your dog is an Active Coper. While the behavior he chooses may annoy you, it works for him, and the good news is change is often easy for him even if it doesn’t seem like it now. But that’s not the focus of this blogpost.
Does your dog tend to shut down around things that bother her? Maybe she hides at the first rumble of a storm, or slinks off when guests arrive. Maybe she lies down and stares off into space, or trembles with her head down, looking at nothing much of the time. She’s a Passive Coper. She’s quiet, nearly invisible, but it’s not a healthy coping strategy.
Passive Copers aren’t processing the stress hormones in their blood. She’s swimming in stress. Shutting down doesn’t make her feel better. She’s stuck, but don’t’ lose hope. She just needs your help to change.
Here’s the important part. We won’t ask her to do anything when she’s off hiding in her corner. We can’t reach her in that state, but we can help prepare her for the next time, and there will be a next time. That’s just life. This is a key difference between RosyDogs and other trainers.
We train for the situation, not in the situation.
At first, all we do is ask her to do is Something. Anything. Even tiny Movement Counts at this point. Just as importantly, she earns zero reward for doing nothing. We have the bigger brain and we know that she needs to Move!
Movement for dogs who shut down at the slightest indication of stress or change may not look like much to us, but for these dogs any movement is monumental. It might be as simple as chomping down on a Kong away from her corner or following you across the room. The trick is to actively help these dogs when they are feeling ok. RosyDogs has lots of Games designed to get her Moving. With the right GamePlan, real life solutions take root in 3 weeks.
For most dogs, it looks something like this.
I have a confession to make. I love helping these dogs, the ones who hide in the corner trembling. There’s something about their energy that blends perfectly with mine. If you have a shut-down dog trembling under the bed, please reach out. I can help you both find peace.
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.