Using Operant Conditioning and Delays to Help an Anxious Dog Calm Down and Relax

By: David Codr

Published Date: March 9, 2020

Winston and Bindi.jpeg 2 scaled - Using Operant Conditioning and Delays to Help an Anxious Dog Calm Down and Relax

For this Omaha dog training session we showed the humans how to introduce boundaries to help 2 year-old Parsons Russell Terrier mix Bindi and 1 year-old Chihuahua mix Winston learn to develop self control and reduce their anxiety.

Knowing that the dogs were anxious, I used a few Dog Behaviorist tricks to make sure the greeting went well. Once we were inside, I learned that a lot of Bindi’s anxiety started after the guardians started working with a local dog training company that utilizes “Balanced” techniques. “Balanced is code for trainers who use aversive training methods; punishing the dog for mistakes and or using pain causing training tools (chock collars, choke chains, pinch / prong collars) which have been proven to cause some dogs to become anxious or aggressive. Ive worked wither 4,000 dogs and haven’t ever needed to use them.

Fortunately the guardians recognized the change in Bindi’s behavior with the start of these “trainers” and discontinued their use pretty quickly. While this stopped things from getting worse, some damage had been done. Its very frustrating to me to see trainers who’s ignorance to the readily accessible training methods out there that do not require force or punishment. After all, the title is dog trainer, not dog punisher. If you are reading this, know that there is no reason you should punish a dog when training them (In my opinion, never at all) and anyone who tells you they need to is covering up a lack of training skills.

I used some Operant Conditioning and a game of fetch to help Bindi start to calm down instead of acting anxious. When you have a nervous dog, creating situations where the dog wants something, but incorporating delaying gratification can help a dog stop acting anxious. Over time, this can help a anxious dog calm down and gain confidence.

Another way to help a nervous dog is to teach them to respect boundaries or limits to shrink their world and help them see the humans acting in the lead. When the dog has to do the work on its own (instead of a gate or boundary keeping them out), it can be very settling. They cant argue with themselves, at least once they have been trained to stay behind a boundary.

In this case, I showed the guardians how to teach a dog to stay outside of the kitchen on its own. I started with Winston as the guardians said he would be the most difficult dog to keep out of a room. You can learn how to teach a dog to stay out of the kitchen by watching the free positive dog training video below.

This easy way to keep dogs out of the kitchen works because the dogs were first motivated to leave and then the humans helped them learn where the boundary was with good timing and precise movements. It will take some practice, but based on how smart the dogs are and how dedicated the humans were, I doubt it will take long.

I was quite pleased to see how well these positive dog training methods worked and how quickly Bindi relaxed. The more the guardians stop and pause when playing fetch, ask her to earn her sits and reward her for desired behaviors she offers on her own, the calmer and closer to her former calm dog self she will become.

To help the humans remember all the tips we shared in this in home Omaha dog training session, we recorded a roadmap to success video that you can check out below.

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This post was written by: David Codr