Adding Rules and Taking Time to Help a Pack Eliminate Overexcited Energy and Unwanted Behavior
I got a call from Bentley, Charlie and Maggie’s (from left to right) owner looking for help with several behavioral issues; not listening, getting too excited, jumping up as well as roughhousing with visitors and guests.
When I arrived for the session, Bentley and Charlee took turns jumping up on me while Maggie kept a considerable distance or stood behind her owners.
I showed their owners my preferred method of communicating that jumping up on guests isn’t allowed. Charlee didn’t like it one bit and protested loudly, but after that correction he stopped jumping up for the rest of the session. If everyone in the family use this method to disagree when any of the dog’s jump up, the behavior should stop within a day or two.
Next I asked what rules the dogs were expected to follow. This is a question I ask most of my clients and the answer is usually the same, few if any. For a balanced dog that trusts and respect’s his owner’s authority, rules aren’t necessary. But when you have a pack of dogs and there are behavioral issues, rules are the key to developing and maintaining a calm balanced pack.
I suggested a few basic rules to adopt such as having to sit before their owner’s let them in or outside, no furniture, etc. While it won’t take long for the humans to adopt these new rules, they should have a big impact on the dogs.
Next I asked if I could place a meet treat on the floor and have the dogs leave it alone without saying a word. When the dad said there was no way that could happen, I asked which of the three dogs would be the most difficult. Bentley was the nominee, but I decided to conduct the exercise with all three dogs loose in the room – something I have never done before.
It was a little more challenging with two dogs (Maggie stayed far away), but within two minted both dogs understood what I wanted and laid down on the floor to communicate that they had given up on getting the treat. As soon as they did, I rewarded them with treats and affection.
After repeating the exercise a few times, I walked the members of the family thorough it with equal results. The dog’s energy level came down quickly as their focus intensified. As we practiced, it became obvious that Bentley and Charlee were both extremely intelligent. When you have smart dogs, mental stimulation or exercise is almost as important as physical activity.
I suggested that all the members of the family practice the exercise with all the dog’s daily for the next week or two, ramping up the level of difficulty each time. By increasing the difficulty, the dogs will better learn to focus, remain calm, and practice restraining themselves.
Because Maggie was staying away while showing very insecure body language, we put the other dogs out into the back yard so I could show them a simple recall exercise.
At first Maggie shut down completely and refused to move away from her security blanket (The family’s mother and father) no matter how much coaxing the other members of the family did. After a few encouraging nudges, we were able to get her to slowly and reluctantly walk over to get the treat. We continued the exercise over the next 5-7 minutes and I was pleased to see her gaining confidence with each repetition.
I suggested that the family practice this exercise with all the dogs, but especially Maggie. As she masters this new skill, her confidence level will increase as will her self esteem. Dogs learn through repetition so the more often they practice, the faster the dog will develop these new skills and confidence.
Their owner asked me if we could go for a short walk as she was having trouble keeping the dogs under control on the leash. I asked her to go through the normal routine so I could see how the dogs reacted. After she got one of them on the leash I had her stop so we could do it again in a more strutted way.
She had started out by asking the dogs in a sing-song baby talk voice if they wanted to go on a walk. As soon as she did this the dogs energy level spiked and they started pacing back and forth or in circles. As she sat down to attach the leashes, the dogs were so worked up they were biting the leashes, running away and jumping up.
When an owner ignores a dog’s energy level and tries to put on the leash and get out the door as soon as they can, the dogs bring that same manic overexcited energy with them which can make for a stressful walk.
I had her put the leashes back in the laundry room then return to the living room for a minute to let the dogs calm down. Once their energy level returned to normal I had her start over in a more controlled way.
First off, I told her to not say anything about going for the walk and instead to simply go get the leashes. As soon as she returned to the living room with them, the dogs started to get wound up again so I asked her to sit down and wait. Once the dogs calmed themselves, she attempted to put Bentley on the leash. But Bentley kept walking away whenever she reached down to attach the collar. Instead of rushing or grabbing the dog I told her to stop again and wait for him to relax.
If an owner consistently stops whenever a dog starts to get over excited, we can subtly communicate that excitement translates to a stoppage. It can take a number of pauses before the dog comprehends the connection, but once it does, the dog starts to remain calmer to avoid them.
Since Bentley pulled on walks, I fitted him up with a Martingale collar and added my special twist to the leash. I walked him around the living room a bit to test how responsive he was with the setup and usual, it stopped the pulling completely.
Next their owner placed the leash on Maggie, taking care to stop anytime she started to get excited. By continuing to pause when the dogs became over-excited, the dog’s energy level kept going down. By the time we headed to the door, they were much more manageable and responsive for their owner.
I went out first and demonstrated how to keep them at a heel as well as a few other tips for managing all three dogs at once. After getting situated, off we went.
Anytime the dogs started to get excited or rush ahead, I had their owner stop and command the dogs to sit. We repeated this process every few feet for the first block or so until their energy level dropped and their responses improved. As we continued, their owner commented to me that it was a blessing to walk them in such a calm controlled manner.
By spending a few minutes at the beginning and taking the time or stopping whenever they got too excited, we were rewarded with a calmer pack of dogs that listened to and didn’t fight their owner on the walk.
By the end of the session the dogs were calm and centered. I explained that if they continue to pause when necessary and continue to enforce the new rules, this new calmer behavior will become permanent.