Teaching a High Energy Dog to Settle Down by Improving its Focus

Cooper (Lab pit)

Cooper is a two-year-old Lab Pit mix who is scared of the family cat, steals items, has separation anxiety and rushes to greet guests when they knock or enter the family home.

It took all of 2 seconds to see that Cooper is a high energy dog. As I discussed the situation with his guardians, they mentioned they didn’t walk him before the session so I could see what his normal energy was like. I also discovered that due to a lack of a fenced in back yard, a busy work schedule and a young one on the way, Cooper’s only real energy burning activity was a 15 minute walk a few times a week.

For a dog with normal energy, I suggest a 30-45 minute walk every day. But for a higher energy dog, the walk needs to be longer. Cooper’s guardians had been utilizing a doggy back-pack to make the walk more challenging for the dog, but this just really isn’t enough of an energy burn for such an energetic dog.

I suggested that fetch may be a good stopgap measure in the short term, but the lack of a fenced in yard made this daunting. Fortunately the family lives near a fenced in park that isn’t very busy. Because fetch is an off leash activity, I went over a basic recall exercise to help condition Cooper to come when called.

While Cooper knew how to come, his guardians hadn’t practiced it in a bit so it took a little coaxing at first. But once Cooper realized he got a high vale treat each time he sat politely in front of anyone who called him, his response time got a whole lot better.

Next I went over a leadership exercise to help Cooper learn that he needs to look to the humans for guidance when he doesn’t know what to do. I placed a high value treat on the floor in the middle of the room, then communicated to Cooper that he was to ignore it. It took a few corrections, but within minutes Cooper was keeping a respectable distance until I gave him permission to get it.

Once I was sure Cooper understood how to go through the exercise, I coached his guardians through the exercise. AT first, their timing was off / slow which caused Cooper to ignore their authority and attempt to go around them to get the treat. But they stuck with it and within a few minutes, they were able to get Cooper to stay a good eight feet away from the treat and patiently wait for the signal that he could get it.

Cooper (Lab pit) 2

By the end of the session, Cooper was pooped. For most dogs, the leadership exercise is pretty draining as it involves the dog using its brain. In time, Cooper won’t be so drained from the exercise as his knowledge and confidence in completing the exercise increases. Still, it had already shown benefits. Cooper was listening better, showing respect for his guardian’s personal space and heeding their corrections right away. Once his guardians add in the proper amount of daily exercise, his unwanted behaviors should abate.

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