When we begin to interact with our dogs after any sort of separation of an hour or more we are inclined to arrive, and get all excited, so our dogs get excited too. Generally we both (people and dogs) have come to understand how much excitement and hyperactivity and its duration is accepted, sometimes not. This happens particularly when we (the humans) get stressed and raise our pitches and get physically more active, even reactive, to try to out shout the dogs’ activities, so we are actually escalating the dogs’ own reaction and energy levels … the hunt is on! By becoming just that little bit uncontrolled we are rewarding the dogs’ hyperactivity.
Dogs (most mammals I know!) will repeat a behaviour they believe has given them some gain … we do: the gaming machines, going to shows, going to work (as much as it can be a drudge there is generally cash in the bank).
Even if you don’t think you are offering a reward to your excited or hyperactive dog I am happy to take a sure bet that someone else in your family has done so. Honestly, it was probably you too, but I won’t push my point.
So my remedy is twofold, one) to teach myself to behave, two) reward the dog for being calm any time I ask, and that includes when I come home, am about to go out, or any other time. I don’t want any dog owner to be a ‘kill joy’ or to ‘dominate’ their dogs’ behaviour, that is not just or going to make you a good owner. Dogs want good owners as much as owners want good dogs … we are all living together so let’s get this on track for a lovely and gorgeous life experience for us and our dogs, and for the dogs and their humans.
And just let me clarify, I do not hold any training certificate or make a living from or employ people to train under me, I am not a professional dog trainer. I may one day, but not as I write this. I have lived with dogs all my life. ‘My’ breeds are actually quite sociable and easy to train. I read a fair amount, take up opportunities to attend workshops, seminars under international top professional trainers. I have even written a book about my experiences in training.
My reason for writing this article is because so much great information on this topic is now pay to view or suffers from not being fashionable at the moment I need to refer someone to it.
So let’s teach CALM. Teaching calm, or anything, is as simple as communicating with your dog, setting up the dialogue, and then rewarding the behaviour you want.
I like to keep in mind “You get the behaviour that has been rewarded”.
To get a good CALM with duration when you ask for it
one) you reward any calm behaviour
two) you do this over many scenarios and time frames
three) as your dog starts to hesitate in high voltage activity then you can reward as you say your magic word. ‘Calm’ may not rattle your socks, choose something that works for you and is a likely option for other people, ‘razzamadoo’ would not spring to most people’s minds.
four) your word will with practice become a trigger for calm behaviour too
This is your destination:
- You have achieved wonders, you are super powered, and your dog is so intelligent he can get all this without 12 years of schooling by people who are not family and don’t even speak ‘dog’.
- You have given your dog the skill to be calm in high voltage situations.
- You have a dog that calms on request, your word actually becomes a trigger for calm behaviour.
There are many trainers who suggest you use a pre-taught or known position/response to calm a reactive/excited dog. If training a chain of behaviours rocks your socks, then I happy for you to go along that path.
I have watched some people get themselves so involved in asking their dog to do a known behaviour in high voltage situations that they never actually get to calm. The situation is usually escalated as they ask their dog to do something when their dog is already stressed, unattentive, and may be in some stage of fear, asking two or more action required things instead of one cooling thing. They want their dog to look at them when three dogs are barrelling and barking towards their dog, they stomp and yell at their dog as they go to answer their doorbell demanding a ‘sit’ at a door jamb removed from the front door, their dog is so focussed on the whizz of the agility ring that the dog is superwired yet has to do a ‘drop’ while still overwrought. If we can teach ‘calm’ as a behaviour we need not demand a ‘look at me’, a ‘sit’, a ‘drop’. And perhaps, with a bit of luck your dog being calm when loose dogs are barrelling towards your dog could defuse that situation too as your dog is not escalating the zoom mode of the ill behaved dogs.
Teaching a ‘calm’ has to be simpler, it is one step, and a behaviour you can ask for (if you train it through) in all sorts of situations, it becomes a life skill.
I advocate requesting a dog to do something, commands are for sergeant majors not dog owners, and my dogs have a choice. Not often, but maybe one or twice, it may be unsafe for them to do something I request and I am giving them the skills to assess that and make a decision. For example, if I inadvertently asked my dog to sit on an ant hill and he hesitated and I demanded for him to ‘sit’ NOW and THERE I am going to cause him pain and he’ll lose trust (rightly) in me, if he has the option to sit off to the side or avoid sitting he avoids pain, me embarrassment, the ants are undisturbed, and each of me and my dog end the episode with a stronger degree of trust in each other, and perhaps I learn to take a bit better notice of the environment to avoid such situations in the future. At no stage would I consider my dog disobedient.
Dialogue needs to be established so one) your dog knows what you want (or has an inkling) two) you reward that behaviour as seen by your dog, which is not necessarily when you see it.
The confusion for the dog and the timing of the reward is heightened during zippy behaviour as your dog does something and perhaps by the time the reward comes to him he is focussing on his next action. In the scenario we are looking at, you ask or distract your dog into demonstrating a calm behaviour (eg turns and pauses to look at you), you see this you register this, then give him his reward but as the reward arrives to the dog and he accepts and registers the reward what he is actually doing when consuming the reward is tensing his muscles to jump up and over you … the reward then actually is for the preparation to jump or the actual jumping up and over you not the pause before doing that.
Clicker advocates can ‘mark’ a behaviour they want and follow through on a variable but quick time scale because they have taught the dog that the marker sound is the marker of the behaviour that is to be rewarded, and the reward comes when it is physically possible. Clicker or marker training is a great tool but it is a skill and I, giving up before a task is complete, haven’t truly tried to master it or instil clicker training in my dogs although I have a middling to fair marker (the word ‘yes’) training level achieved.
When training a new skill I like to ensure there is a ‘substantial’ repetition or holding of that skill so it is clear what is the behaviour/action required, and then AFTER the reward has been accepted give a release command.
You may not have taught a release command as yet. Just be a bit daring and teach two things together after a few goes with the getting the calm demonstrated and rewarded. Your release command can be generic for lots of commands/requests, for leaving the sit, for coming through an open door, for getting into the car.
If I have not taught a release command but want to tackle sometime like calm, then I usually just drape my hand on the dog in a comfortable and supportive place so I can remind the dog the behaviour required is not finished. This works beautifully with the first stages of staying in a position if that position starts near me … for example for a sit while in heel location and then maintaining the sit while I step to the side and back or walk around the dog. This technique will work well with calm too. (psst, just have to say I do not say ‘stay’ if I use any cue it is a repeat of the position already there and I want held, eg ‘sit’).
I tend to look for commands that can be used in many places. Such as ‘leave’ (as in leave alone), ‘here’ (come to me, generally close not necessarily as in a trial recall), ‘sit’ (just get your butt on the ground pronto it doesn’t matter if you are about to run into a national park or you are actually in heel location), likewise ‘calm’ could be used when visitors arrive, the dog is about to be released from the car but is zizzing with enthusiasm, a horde of rowdy youths are banging on the back fence.
Some trainers will call the ‘holding’ of the behaviour a building of duration. It can be, and if you follow through on the skills building it will be. And you should. Just as you should change your training life scenarios and environmental challenges/distractions to really establish the calm behaviour or any other … some trainers call this proofing.
- microsecond with a clearly defined pause before a change of behaviour
- 1 second
- 3 seconds
- half a seconds
- 6 seconds
mix up your durations
Environmental Proofing options:
- on your arrival home, when your dog has been home
- when you take your dog out as you go to open his car door
- as you get up and greet your dog
- as you are about to given him his meal
- on bed or trampoline
mix up your environmental options
- yummy treats
- lots of
- ear smooches
- kind, soft words
- clever Fido
mix up your reward options
Mix and match your duration, environmental and reward options, use your normal life area and find unusual places. Try this at home, on the floor, on the bed, at the park on the park bench, on a large flat rock.
Rewards are things your dog actually likes and values over other things at the time you deliver what you see as the ‘reward’. As a living and thinking being your dog is going to consider things that give him shelter, sustenance, comfort, and love as very, very rewarding. As a sociable mammal your dog is wanting to engage with you and make you happier. This really makes it easy for humans to train a dog, it is just that humans are inclined to out think themselves or stop before a job is actually complete (such as me and clicker training). You may notice your highly charged dog isn’t fussed by a yummy treat if the duck pond is on the left, your reward has to be higher value (or use the duck pond as your reward, with due care for duck pond users and residents!).
As a dog owner you always have your love to offer with you, and most times you can wrangle to have a yummy treat very near by or on you. So these are your best options to use as rewards. Keep in mind that some food treats are yummier then others, some parts to pat are more appreciated then others and sometimes it is really inappropriate to pat in certain areas if your dog is upset or over excited.
You need to have in mind what ‘calm’ is, calm is not the aim but the destination, calmer, and calmer again, will be part of the journey, the stages of calming are not the destination, calm is. I would hope to have a dog that was sitting, standing, or lying down quietly, not panting hard, not straining to get away from the calm spot, have relaxed face muscles and calm body muscles, and quietly watching the immediate environment with no need to rush at it.
Let’s make this easy for you and your dog, you have to contend with a supply of treats and getting the reward to the dog when he is calm, so why not train this when your dog is calm?
Reward him, use your magic word, when he is calm. If communication/dialogue is good between you two he will get this concept really quickly, and even in the first session you maybe able to make a big step towards your second destination of resolving high voltage situations. This is done by releasing him and turning up his energy a bit, you reward that too, in fact reward the release as well, encourage him back into a calm state and reward. May be three reps (repeats of the three behaviours calm : release : zinging : calm : release : etc) in each session. Provided you have a distinct and substantial neutral time between each session of reps you can probably get three super charged training sessions in the day because they are short duration, just ignite the training session from a natural calm time such as snuggling on the couch, resting after a sleep, or after a snooze after exercise.
- a smoothing quiet lulling voice
- a smooth moderately deep long stroking pat
- a quiet restful place
- you going into calm mode
- a game you and your dog enjoy with his toy, hide & seek, tag, perhaps
- tossing a bit of food or toy and ‘get it’
- offering to let him into an area he can zoom
- you going into zinging mode
You can do this, because all you really need to remember is “You get the behaviour that has been rewarded”, but if you need some extra help these may help
Really real relaxation DVD https://suzanneclothier.com/shop/really-real-relaxation/ , online video https://vimeo.com/ondemand/167161– I got the DVD, watched and was so inspired, wow.
Absolute Dogs Online Course https://absolute-dogs.com/products/calm I have not done this but based on their earlier publications it should be good.
Keywords: dog, calm, settle down, hyperactive, over reactive
About the Author: Jan Irving is part owner of the famous Erinveine Clumber Spaniels in Australia, a successful artist, and author of several popular books including the definitive historical review of Clumbers The White Spaniel, the extensive introduction to the breed Clumber Spaniels, a number of general dog titles and the children’s stories The Secret of the Dragon and Santa’s Clumber-tastic Christmas.
Erinveine Clumber Spaniels www.erinveine.com
Erinrac Enterprises www.erinrac.com