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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?

  • Melspetpals says:

    Once again I learn from the master. Glad to know that I'm not the only one who gets tired of building the sit behavior.

  • Melspetpals says:

    Great post Amy! I am afraid I suffer from the same ailment. I also thought Debbie's post was a great one (but they always are). I was left thinking too. But, what I hadn't thought about was how I could incorporate calm into my dog's and my life. Duh! I really like the way you are using it in regards to their food. So smart!

    I think I'm going to join you on this crusade to introduce calm into my life. See? You got me thinking too!

  • Melspetpals says:

    Great post Amy! I am afraid I suffer from the same ailment. I also thought Debbie's post was a great one (but they always are). I was left thinking too. But, what I hadn't thought about was how I could incorporate calm into my dog's and my life. Duh! I really like the way you are using it in regards to their food. So smart!

    I think I'm going to join you on this crusade to introduce calm into my life. See? You got me thinking too!

  • I am fond of calm but that's much easier with one dog that with multiples. I really enjoy the thought-provoking posts, too, and I agree with you about Debbie Jacobs – fabulous writing and I've been meaning to say so on my blog too for some time now!

    The mistakes I must confess to are generally about taking it easy on grooming time, which means it takes three times as long to get the job done, but I rationalize that it's better not to stress him on the comb out of his soft and easily matted undercoat (esp now that it's coat season here) and the more coarse coat on top of that. But all this really means is that he ends up making the call of when enough is enough:) I'm not an “enforcer” type of dog person, but was out of necessity more structured when I had three dogs.

    Tashi was my mom's dog, and she taught him there was no need to get out of the way of people's feet or walking paths…consequently he'll dart in front of me and get right in front of my stride. I stop now and turn to go the other way, calling him to come when that happens, except when it's really cold and snowy – then everything goes to hell and I just yell “Tashi, wait!” So much for reinforcement of desired behavior!

    • Yes, it does seem that keeping the calm was much easier before we became a 2-dog family. Sleeping is Ty's favorite form of exercise, so calmness was not something we had to strive for when it was just him. Adding Buster to the mix has really escalated things! Everything between them seems to be a competition – from who will get out the door first to which one will finish eating. It's not so much that Rod and I have changed – the dynamic between the two of them now fosters excitement and anxiety. But, if things were always easy we'd never learn anything new!

      We're really bad about grooming around here too. Ty had his first bath last weekend in more than 6 months and Buster had gotten a longer reprieve because I can't fit him into the utility sink!

      Oh heavens! I'm picturing you trying to avoid stepping on Tashi on the cold, snowy sidewalks of Chicago. Please be careful out there!

  • Kim Clune says:

    Rod, after reading this post and, Debbie, your response, I see that I am complete and total failure at doggie tranquility, as is my dog training teammate.

    We feed treats in the kitchen – rewarding the dogs' eager arrival there only to tell them they don't belong when we cook. We get run down by the hound when he both enters and exits the dog door, excited to chase that squirrel from the fence or to come in and tell us all about it. We unsuccessfully try to break up raucous indoor Newf/hound wrestling matches on cold days when the hound won't play outside. And we repeat commands when they don't listen – over and over as if they'll magically understand by the 5th or 20th time. This, of course, only makes them listen like rocks, nothing bothering to enter their brains because we can't mean it anyway.

    The good news? We know we fail at calm tranquility and we're pretty okay with that. Why? Because, after all the crazy excitement and debauchery burns off, our sweet maniacs then sleep in the same way they listen – like rocks. That's when we kick up our feet and enjoy the calm. :)

    Still, your way sounds pretty cool. lol.

    • Absolutely! It's all a matter of molding the behavior we want. For us, the prospect of living long-term in the Winnebago with no outdoor space of our own has led to a renewed commitment to calmness. Raucous wrestling matches just aren't going to be an option if we also want to maintain what's left of our sanity. ;-)

  • Thanks for your reference to my blog post. I appreciate knowing that I'm not talking to myself here on the Green River in southern Vermont.

    As for what training mistakes have I made, umm…there's probably not enough room here for the list. When you have multiple dogs the challenge does more than double, especially if both have their 'issues'. But probably the most common training mistake I make is that I do not reward behaviors soon or often enough.

    When I have dogs that I do not want to come into the kitchen (I board & train), I have to reward the new dogs or the pups more frequently for 'not' being in the kitchen. Especially those from single dog households (or like mine) where a dog is allowed to hover at your feet waiting for bits to fall. So rather than give them the chance to keep practicing getting up and coming into the kitchen, I go to them with their reward. Sometimes it means that getting dinner ready can take awhile as I keep out to reward the dog every few seconds.

    Then the next common mistake I make is to 'sometimes' accept the wrong behavior. Basically I make excuses for the dog and myself. I get tired of building the sit behavior and just want to get dinner ready so when the dog comes into the kitchen, I let them linger awhile, and heaven forbid I drop something which they get to eat, rewarding that behavior. Or I let them behave a certain way for any number of excuses; they're excited, of course they'd want to play with another dog, or as one owner told me recently, she allows her dog to resource guard food because the dog has a 'thing' about food. (I have a thing about money but so far have not been able to keep people away from the local bank).

    Good luck with creating calm around meal times. Another trick I use for any event which causes arousal in my dogs is to change the predictors. I get out the dog bowls (yippee! food!) and then I wash the dishes (huh?), I put the food in the bowls (oh yeah now it's happening!), and then I answer email (WTF?), etc. I do the same with walks when I have dogs who lose their minds and start jumping, whining or racing around. Put my shoes on, grab the leashes and go water the plants.

    • Thank you for the great suggestions, Debbie! Sometimes accepting wrong behaviors is a big one around here. And I love the idea of becoming unpredictable – that sounds like a lot of fun for me – I'm not sure Buster and Ty will agree. :-)

    • Ha — I've done that same switch of routine at feeding time after picking up the food bowl and getting the food out, I'll make my tea, check email, do things I'm not “supposed” to be doing, and I have actually seen the WTF? look on Tashi's face;-D.But when he gets too excited about dinner, he bolts his food, so if I interrupt the process the escalation gets derailed and he doesn't eat like he's the newest version of a Dyson.

    • Melspetpals says:

      Once again I learn from the master. Glad to know that I'm not the only one who gets tired of building the sit behavior.

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