Taming Excitement through Holistic Training

Whoops, it looks like I missed a week – getting my business set up has been eating at my free time.  This post is going to be pretty good though, so maybe that will make up for it.

We’re going to talk about changing behavior. Ranger, in this example, was just getting too excited at his training class.  The week before last, he was hyperfocusing on me, throwing behaviors at me, bouncing around, and barking the second he stopped earning treats.  In fact, the entire time we practiced the Supervised Separation part of the CGC test, he spent 3 brutal minutes barking and bouncing at the end of the leash, barely restrained by the poor innocent handler with whom I had exchanged dogs.  Excitement turns to frustration quickly if a dog does not know how to handle NOT getting something he wants or has come to expect, and when I, the source of reinforcement, disappeared, he just had no idea how to cope.

What do we do? Here’s the way I see a lot of people try to tackle an over-excited dog:

“NO.  Bad dog.  :yank on dog’s collar:”


Punishment can certainly suppress behavior, but it leaves a void that can then quickly be filled by any other behavior the dog thinks might work to get attention or a treat.  In addition, it creates negative associations.  I don’t want my dog to associate training time with escaping or avoiding pain!

So what do we do?  Instead of using pain, let’s use our brain.  Step back and look at all the moving parts with me…

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Sit for Petting (Part One)

My first dog, Ginger, was a sweet little Brittany who failed the Canine Good Citizen test for probably the best reason out there… she was just too friendly.

Ranger suffers from this same happy affliction.  He loves petting and cuddles, and turns into a wiggly 85 pound ball of snuggles when someone touches him.  Ok, looks at him.  Ok, thinks about him.

Luckily, this effervescent quality can be tamed without being wounded.  This is one thing I love about positive training – we aren’t punishing a dog for being friendly!

So how do we turn a Labrador shaped Tigger into a dog that greets calmly and politely?  Read on!

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The First Family Walk

One of the best payoffs of devoting time to training is when it really starts to make your life easier instead of just adding another commitment to a busy schedule.  This paid off yesterday with Ranger’s first family walk. Because of his overreactions to other dogs and his tendency to pull, we had not taken Ranger out before with the baby; it was too much of an inconvenience to try to manage a flailing slobber bark-hound (I’m sure that is just one word in German) instead of just being able to enjoy an evening stroll.

This time, there was strolling AND enjoyment.


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Treats of the Trade

Pet store aisles are filled with tiny packages of treats priced outrageously – yesterday I saw several priced at over ten dollars for just a few morsels that would last about five minutes.  In addition, many of these are preservative or dye laden, or high in junk calories with little nutritional value.

Training with treats as a reward does not need to break the bank or pack on puppy pounds, so here are just a couple of the preferred items that we use – the hidden secrets of treat training!

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Stay On Task

When I trained my Collie, I used to get up early every morning and take her into a dewy field by my apartment.  We would trot around, practice recalls, practice stays from a distance, and spend quite a bit of time working on the training bugaboo of long duration stays.

These are pretty boring.  The traditional way, in the open field, I would put Lady into a Stay and then kind of stare at her and shift my weight and wonder what to do for one minute or three minutes or heaven forbid five minutes.  But we made it through, and after she was fully trained she would do an hour long down stay at the park while the children played.

With Ranger, I don’t have the time or capability to wander into a dewy field to train for hours on end.  As a matter of fact, I barely have time to train for 15 minutes.  But as I was working with him the other day, I realized something marvelous – we could train the stay while I was getting my other mommy chores done, turning training time into efficient multi-tasking instead of an excuse not to do the dishes.  Here’s how:

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Tackling Fears: Stairs, Babies and Dogs

My stairs are slightly terrifying.  TWO flights (living to foyer to basement), near-vertical and perilous.  One of those is true.

But they still worry me.  Especially holding a baby, managing stairs with a maniacal Labrador gleefully cannonballing up and down is justifiably fear-inducing.

But let’s read that again.  There’s something important here…

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Jazz Up & Settle Down

I’ve been spending some time poring through Dr. Ian Dunbar’s fabulous site http://www.dogstardaily.com/ since he (the inventor of the modern puppy class!) has a wonderful way of making dog training accessible and easy for pet dog owners.  I highly recommend setting up an account there if you have a pet dog and want simple, fun, and effective ways to teach your dog manners and to build your relationship. He offers a ton of free articles, videos, podcasts, and even a free download of his excellent books on how to raise puppies.

One of the terms from his work that I liked and will appropriate is his “Jazz Up & Settle Down”.  I have used the concept before, but his terminology is really perfect and makes the meaning quite intuitive.

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