I am often asked what is the #1 issue people want help with for their dogs. Numerous answers immediately spring to mind: jumping, pulling on leash, barking, nipping, the list goes on and on. It is really dependent on the individual dog and owner. Of course, socialization for puppies and preventing separation related behaviors when people head back to work are really high on everyone’s list right now.
There are a few things these behaviors all have in common and that is a lack of calmness and self-control. Classes for dogs and puppies focus on outcomes and behaviors: sit, down, recall, wait, etc., which are all important behaviors for dogs to have. But these classes never teach dogs any self-control or how to be calm.
Many people think high-energy dogs need tons of exercise, so they go for marathon walks or runs at least once and sometimes several times a day. Just as with humans, the more exercise a dog gets, the more it takes to physically tire them out. What you end up with is a super athlete dog who has a greater and greater capacity for exercise, but still has no idea how to be calm in the house.
Calmness and self-control certainly don’t cure all behaviors we don’t like in our dogs, but for a dog that has a basis of calmness and self-control sit becomes a default behavior. A dog that possesses self-control doesn’t jump on people for greetings, doesn’t knock you over rushing out the door when you open it. And yes, calmness and self-control absolutely play into preventing separation related behaviors and puppy socialization!
All behaviors are the outcomes of thought processes going on in the dog’s brain from what the dog perceives from the environment. Changing the perceptions and thought processes going in changes the behaviors coming out. When training concentrates on molding the perception and thought process, instead of the behavior outcome, training the behaviors you do want becomes naturally easier and you see real-life results.
So how do you teach a high-energy puppy or dog to be calm and have some semblance of self-control? You play games. Anyone who has had children, worked with children or adults that act like children knows that learning in the context of games is the best learning and best environment for learning! You play games to teach them to be calm. Boundary games, teaching them to stay on a bed or in a crate instill both calmness and self-control. Arousal up and arousal down games help instill self-control. There are numerous games and levels to each game to help your dog learn calmness and self-control.
Now no dog can go from crazy to calm overnight. All training takes time, but another great thing about games-based training is that training is done for short, short sessions. Three minutes or less. And even in today’s crazy world, who can’t carve out three minutes to play a game with their dog? Right now is the perfect time to be training our dogs so that when we can take them back in public places, they are calmer and have better manners. Set your dog up for success by training for the situation, not in the situation.
So whatever your number 1 issue is that you are having with your dog, think about how it might look differently if they were calmer and had more self-control, and how much easier your life might be. All it takes is games. Now go play with your dog.
Written by Kristi Jones for Lincoln Pet Culture. Kristi is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) and Certified Behavior Consultant-Canine (CBCC-KA). She is also a certified fear-free trainer who has achieved the Silver level of Low Stress Handling certification in the Sophia Yin program. She is a member of The Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC), and the Professional Pet Guild (PPG). Moreover, she is an AKC evaluator for Canine Good Citizen and Trick Dog Titles. She runs a pet consulting business called Mind Your Manners.