Tips to calm your dog

Sometimes a high energy dog gets revved up and just can't stop! You may see behaviour such as jumping repeatedly, racing around at top speed in circles or back and forth. The dog seems incapable of stopping themselves and need your help to slow down. It is hard to teach a young dog how to be calm inside the house. They often have so much energy and they are often all too pleased to be in our company that they just can't seem to help their bad behavior. Patience, training, and more patience are key when working with any animal

There is a law in training that not many people talk about that says, “When you train a behavior, you ALSO train the dog to feel the emotions he felt while you trained the behavior.” And whether you like it or not, all daily interactions with your dog are training sessions. He’s either being trained to ignore you, being trained to get excited, or being trained to do a hundred thousand other things. But he’s always being trained.

So when you say that “she goes nuts when everyone comes to say hello to her or come near her.”  That tells me something. because your dog *really* likes people, it’s an exciting thing for her to interact with them… maybe more exciting then anything else. It’s probably SO exciting that it’s worth getting yelled at or swatted, or ignoring your “OFF” commands for just a few seconds of interaction with people.

Which means we have a problem…

We have a SELF reinforcing behavior.

Meaning that we have a behavior (greeting people) that is so rewarding, every interaction with people is being rewarded.

A dog may become hyper in an attempt to seek attention from you. If you give your dog the attention he seeks, you reinforce the behavior. Ignore your dog when he’s displaying hyperactive behavior and give him positive reinforcement when he’s calm. If done consistently, this can have a positive impact on your dog’s hyperactivity level. Never give in to the dog when it is in a hyperactive state as in effect you are reinforcing the dog's negative behavior. You should never get frustrated or angry. Raising your voice would make the dog even more hyper. Be calm.

This is a really simple dog training trick that works for puppies or older, over-exuberant dogs to calm them down and teach them to focus and be more composed.

Put your dog on leash so the little bugger can't run away from you. Stand above him and put his favorite treat in between your thumb and index finger. Don't say anything to your puppy but SLOWLY (I am serious, very SLOWLY) move the treat closer to your puppy. He doesn't need to sit, necessarily, but if he jumps or tries to grab the treat, simply move the treat out of his grasp and continue the exercise.

What should happen very quickly is that your puppy realizes that he needs to remain calm in order for the treat to continue moving in his direction. If his puppy brain loses control and he tries to grab the treat, the treat moves away, darn!

So, this gets him to focus and remain calm, even for a short amount of time. But, if you practice this periodically throughout the day, you should start to notice that you can more quickly get your puppy to calm down.

Canine Calming Signals, The Foundation of Communication?

For a moment, let's take ourselves away from established ideas and labels concerning subordinance displays, displacement activities, rituals, drives and for a few moments think about canine body language as Turid Rugaas does.

Those of us which have the opportunity to observe a group of well-socialized dogs interacting freely may see the following calming signals:

MOVING SLOWLY

A dog intending to use signals, upon seeing another dog in the distance, will start to move slowly. This exaggerated slow motion is a calming signal, and one which can be used early and effectively when meeting. Joggers, cars and bicycles may approach quickly and may appear as a threat.

MOVING IN AN ARC

Rarely upon first meetings will dogs approach each other nose to nose. Only dogs which are very sure of the outcome of a situation will attempt to meet head on. More frequently dogs approach each other in curving lines, walk beyond each other's nose to sniff rear ends while standing side to side.

This curving theory has been proven time and time again. Ask any groomer or veterinarian. Most apprehensive dogs are more easily approached if not confronted head on. When approached from the side, one can gain the dog's confidence more readily. Unfortunately dogs are constantly put into situations where they must accept confrontation. It's wise to condition dogs to accept this eventuality gracefully.

SNIFFING THE GROUND

Dogs use their noses to explore their environment, but at times sniffing seems to have a different significance. Owners have attributed out of context sniffing to lack of concentration or stalling. Some say it's a displacement activity. Turid categorizes sniffing during times of stress as a calming signal.

Example: You and your dog Spot are patiently waiting in the veterinarian's reception room. Spot is thinking,

"Wow! that human in the long white coat keeps walking in and out. She looks and smells strangely. This is scary! I'd better sniff the floor of the waiting room now to show that I mean no harm and maybe she'll leave me alone."

Granted, the floor of the waiting room probably has many intriguing smells, but it could be Spot's way to calm himself and others around him.

Example: Ken allowed his dog Ginger off leash. "Ginger, COME" thunders Ken. Ginger approached Ken slowly, in a curve, then paused to sniff. Is she being spiteful or could it be conflict resolution? Has her past experience taught her that "Come" is often followed by an unpleasant state of affairs - time to go home, time to come away from something more interesting, time to receive a punishment? What tone of voice, body posture and facial expressions does Ken use when calling Ginger? Is Ginger untrained, bad, distracted or is she trying to explain something to Ken?

SITTING, LYING

These positions are probably the most graphic calming signals of all. You can see them being used in active play sessions. A dog will spontaneously drop when things get out of control.

How many dogs, when receiving a reprimand from the owner will sit or lie down? Turid sees this as a signal that the dog is anxious and is trying to calm the owner down.

LIP LICKING

This quick little flick of the tongue is language which often goes unnoticed because it is shadowed by more overt signals. It is yet another way for a dog to convey the same message, for everybody to calm down.

Go back through some photos of your dogs. Frequently lip licking can be seen in photographs. Posing for a photo can be a problem for some dogs. Many are worried about the camera which has a staring eye following their every move!

BLINKING, AVERTING EYES, TURNING AWAY

When a dog approaches another, it's a very interesting moment in time for those individuals. Why then, do we see dogs looking away, exaggerating an eye blink or turning their heads away from approaching dogs? Is it disinterest, distraction or a calming signal?

People who work with dogs realize early in their careers that they can gain the confidence of a worried dog more quickly by avoiding direct eye contact, or even better, by turning away with their backs or sides to the dog.

YAWNING

Perhaps the most intriguing of all signals is yawning.

Jane and her dog Fido are at the neighborhood barbecue. The volleyball players are smacking the ball with gusto, the music is playing with a resounding beat and people are animated and noisy. With all of this fun going on Fido still gives an occasional yawn. Can he be sleepy? Perhaps. Or is Fido yawning to reduce his stress and to calm down the others present. If Jane were to turn her own head away from the noisy people and yawn, would this reassure Fido?

SHAKING IT OFF

Not to be confused with shaking off water after a rainstorm or bath, this calming signal is used quite often with dogs. Here’s an excellent example: an adult dog that is not normally aggressive is playing with a young puppy that becomes a bit too rambunctious. As a result, the adult dog ends up getting accidentally bitten in the ear by the puppy. The adult dog, in turn, puts a big paw on the puppy, ‘pins’ him to the ground, ‘makes eye contact’ with him and ‘stares him down.’ The puppy sees these signals and stops the behavior. The adult dog then releases the puppy, backs up just a bit and ‘shakes off.’ By exhibiting this physical behavior, the adult dog is ‘diffusing’ or ‘shaking off’ the nervous energy around him as if to say ‘I’m sorry I did that to you, but don’t bite me again!’ Hopefully, the puppy will get the message and will be more respectful of the adult in the future.

Calming signals will help you train better. When your dog is tired, stressed or unable to focus, he will let you know. In addition, the use of calming signals will help you to be able to calm down a dog who is becoming nervous or stressed. Because of your use of the signals you may be able to show other insecure or fearful dogs that you can be trusted. You can become a better friend to your dog by understanding him more. Calming signals are wonderful to use in behavior therapy to help dogs overcome problems. As a matter of fact, it is critical that they are used if long term success is to be obtained in behavior therapy.