A Dog’s Eye View: Teaching your dog 2nd gear
November 15, 2012
Wow, wow, wow! Willa came to us as a bundle of combustible energy, just waiting to explode with the next adventure or toy. Every experience has potential for being the greatest thing ever. Mind you, this energy is anchored by a sweet disposition and a joyful approach to everyone and everything. But constantly being bombarded by requests for attention can get tiring, so I needed to teach Willa another way to approach life — a second, slower gear than her "wow!" one.
My first steps involved management and tools. Willa was introduced to a crate (first tool) the very first night she arrived. I began by surrounding the crate with an exercise pen, leaving the door open so she could chose to either go in and lie on her bed or not. Well before bedtime, I'd spent several hours repeatedly tossing the occasional treat into her crate — with door wide open — to entice her to choose to enter and explore on her own. She also was fed her dinner in there.
Those first nights, she chose to sleep outside the crate — and with a bit of very vocal complaining about being confined. But sensing that the vocalizations were more complaints than concerns, I simply chose to ignore her, and she eventually settled outside the crate. By the second night, Willa's "verbal objecting" time was reduced greatly, and by the fourth night, she realized that the bed in the crate was much more comfortable than the rug outside, so in she went. By the sixth night, after many dry runs during the day, I could close the door. She still whined a bit, but she eventually stopped and has slept peacefully in the crate ever since.
The second tool I employed was a tether (leash or rope) attached to the leg of a heavy sofa. I used this to securely and safely restrain Willa after her dinner, giving her a soft bed to lie on and a few toys with which to amuse herself. This was done in the room where we were watching TV so she could be part of our night without consuming it with requests for attention. For safety reasons, the leash was used only when a human was there to supervise. After a few unsuccessful attempts to get to us, she quieted herself and actually fell asleep. We've used this management tool whenever Willa ramps up, and each time, it has worked in turning her volume of energy down a notch.
Management and tools, when used properly and mindfully, are very helpful. Combining management and training when teaching a pup to calm down in a non-aversive way helps to build the trust bond necessary for a positive lifetime relationship. Management and training work on the principle of teaching a pup that spending time alone (or at least, out from under foot) is OK. The crate actually will become a dog's safe place, a den of her own. The tether can be looked at as a temporary restraint that causes the dog to stop and regroup her energies.
Learning to slow down, to accept temporary confinement and/or restraint, is a crucial and helpful lesson for every dog to learn. These two management tools always will be part of my tool box.
Lisa Mason is an experienced dog training instructor with the Total Teamwork Training group. Her specialties include new puppy owner education and management.