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Hurry Up and Calm Down

I anxiously anticipate each new post on Fearfuldogs’ Blog . The author, Debbie Jacobs, is a talented dog trainer, and I love her for writing in a way that gets me thinking. Last week her post titled “How Dare You!” really hit me.

The post is about patience, asking “Why can’t you?” rather than “How dare you?” when your dog is behaving poorly. It’s about figuring out ways to make him want to comply with your request. And it’s about how frustration leads to coercion and how coercion doesn’t work.

As I was reading the post, I focused on the pieces about frustration – because I feel it a lot. We’ve told you about our dogs’ behavior issues, and honestly, I am often embarrassed by their outbursts. I get dejected when they seem to loose complete control of their faculties the moment they see another dog. And I am at my wit’s-end when they push and shove to get out an open door.

As I was reading Debbie’s post it occurred to me – what I really want, more than anything else, is for my dogs to be calm – and I’ve been teaching them everything BUT that. ***Picture me banging my head on the table top.***

Ty and Amy

Hurry Up and Sit

The Great Disconnect

Creating calmness sounds easy enough, right? The problem is that I’m always in a rush when it comes to training. From expecting the boys to learn new things quickly, to cramming as much into a 15-minute training session as possible – I am always applying the pressure of “time.”

Side note: It’s not just the dogs that are subject to my “hurry up” mentality. I think it might actually be in my DNA. But I’m working on it!

Buster and Ty have no concept of time. Despite the stress it causes me, they have no idea that we’re running late for this or that. Whether we get to the office at 8am or 2pm is irrelevant to them, though I nearly panic imagining the tasks on my to-do list reproducing like bunnies in my absence. All the dogs know is that I am tense, that my patience is thin, and that while I might appear to be present, my mind is usually three steps ahead.

An Example of the Craziness

Not only am I showing them what tension looks like, I’m actually creating anxiety for them and calling it “training.” For instance, at feeding time we place the dogs in a “down” while preparing their food. They must stay in that position until they are released. It’s an exercise in self-control, right? Well, as soon as we start this routine the stress (theirs and mine) starts to build! The whining, the drooling, the jumping up (only to be returned to the down position), and finally bolting for their bowl the moment they get the command. What was I really teaching them? At the height of their excitement, when they could bear it no longer, they would be rewarded with a delicious meal.

Rod and the Boys

Maintaining Eye Contact

New Game Plan

We’ve got a new approach. Since our ultimate goal is to create calmness, we’re more conscious of the level of excitement we’re creating in all our activities with the dogs. As for me, rather than seeing “relaxing” as the thing that happens when the day’s tasks are done, I’m making it my new state of mind. Being frantic wasn’t much fun anyway.

And, our feeding routine has changed completely. We now prepare Ty and Buster’s food, paying virtually no attention to them at all. Then we wait as long as it takes for them to relax and that’s when we give them their bowl. Sometimes it only takes a few minutes, other times it takes a lot longer. But that’s alright – we’ve got time.

What mistakes have you made training your dog?