If I had a nickel for every client that told me their dog had ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), I would be a rich dog trainer right now.
Many times we enable our dog to stay in that excited mindset without realizing it.
Here are a few scenarios.
Example 1 – dog lives with a young couple who work all day and then come home to enjoy their dog in the evening. They have done the responsible thing by crating the dog while they were gone but when they come home, the dog wants to play outside, play inside, can’t sit still and wants attention 100% of the time and the owners comply by playing fetch, tug, walking and focusing on the dog the entire night.
Example 2 – you have a small young family so your dog is underfoot all the time with the kiddos (hanging out at the table, playing outside with the kids, going in the car everywhere together, etc). When you are separated from your dog, he whimpers and cries excessively so you soothe and comfort him before you leave and when you come back home and feel sorry for him when he can’t be with you.
Example 3 – you take your dog to doggie daycare and he gets tired out, naps on the way home, has some dinner and then around 7 pm, he is ready to go again… Running, playing, wrestling and we allow him to get his energy out.
Example 4-owners practice training commands at home but the dogs are constantly whining during the commands and never really relax. When you are done, the dog acts pushy, solicits non-stop affection and we give them our undivided attention.
Keep in mind during all these scenarios as we are entertaining our dog(s), our emotions begin getting the best of us and we get irritated, annoyed, frustrated or sometimes just downright angry that our dog cannot settle down.
It is our job as owners to make sure our dogs get plenty of structured physical and mental exercise. Playing fetch in the backyard or playing with another dog is great but does not replace a 20- minute good heeling (loose leash) walk with your dog or incorporating commands and impulse control exercise into that game of fetch. That does not mean a 20-minute walk where you allow your dog to pull you all over the place, and sniff every tree and mailbox. That type of walk just adrenalizes (excites) your dog since he is in control of where you go and what you do. Or a game of fetch where you just play non stop for 20 minutes and then go back inside.
The structured walk, impulse control exercises and settle the dog activity are instrumental to helping balance your dog’s energy and allow you to work together as a partnership instead of letting the dog be in charge. We are teaching our dog to be calm and enjoy being with us without talking and excessive energy.
I use this example a lot in class. I can work at a physically demanding job and come home and be physically tired but my mind is still racing but if I have to work on a computer and use my brain all day at work, when I come home, I am wiped. It is OK to have your dog complete a 30-60 minute stay or place command while you are home in the evening. This can be intermittent broken up by training activities or you can have your dog hold that position the entire time. That requires work and effort on your dog’s part. This can be done while putting the kids to bed, while we are on social media, while we cook or eat dinner, while we watch a TV show, while we are on the treadmill, etc. We need to teach our dogs to co-exist with us without attention.
Getting ready for the walk is another example where dogs get very excited. Many people have different cues such as pulling out the leash, putting on your shoes, telling the dog it is time for a walk, etc. The dogs are jumping up and down, barking and generally out of control. I want a dog that is calm when I put the leash on and then calm when I open the door. This prerequisite calmness will lead into the walk. How can they be expected to be calm on the walk when just 5 minutes earlier, they were rewarded for being crazy? This inconsistency lends itself to poor leadership.
We must teach our dogs how to do this. If we cannot, the dog is constantly looking for a “fix” of some sort and their mind is always racing thinking about the next activity to help them stay in that adrenalized state of mind.
Our calm energy and state of mind is crucial to help the dog learn to succeed as well. Settling the dog is a good start. Put your dog’s leash on your dog in the house, step on it so they can only sit and laydown and then ignore your dog for 10 minutes. You can watch TV, do the dishes, work on the computer, etc. As you build duration, you and your dog will begin to build a relationship and they will want to lay down near you where you are without attention (as long as you remain calm and provide leadership).
We also need to work on our personal emotions. Just because I put my dog in a stay does not mean he is a bad dog or I am mean. I want my dog to want to obey me because he respects me. Respect has to be earned so I am not going to feel sorry for my dog, apologize for giving him a command or make excuses when they cannot perform the behavior. I will continue to work with them and practice the behaviors I want. If my dog starts whining, I will correct the whining and then ignore the dog. Once I get calmness from the dog I will quietly praise the dog. As a dog owner, I need to put their needs first and recognize what they need to be successful and not be selfish with cuddling and playing. Many times our insecurities are transmitted to our dog and we ask our dog to be our counselor, psychologist, behaviorist and it is too much pressure for them. As clients have started this behavior change with their dog(s), they have seen much more relaxed, confident and happy dogs.
I challenge all of your to commit to a structured walk with your dog, waiting calmly at the door and practicing the settle the dog exercise at least 3 x per week and see if you notice a difference in your dog. Then tell me about it….